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Parental Rights in Education Bill Signed by Gov. DeSantis

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It’s been dubbed the “Anti-Grooming” Bill by conservatives, and the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill by liberals, but the actual name is Parental Rights in Education, or House Bill 1557. Before delving into the ethics of it and it’s possible repercussions, I think it is important to asses it first in legal terms, as it is a legal issue above all else.

On March 28th, 2022 the bill was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). Sourced directly from the bill as written on the Florida Senate website, the bill promises the following:

Prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels, requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.

Essentially, what this means is that parents are granted protection and support from the state when suing school districts, enabling greater parental control over their child’s education. The government has been regulating school curriculum for quite some time now, and limiting teachers’ free speech is something we have accepted as normal and okay since the implementation of things like the “common core.” There are pros and cons to standardizing education like this, which is a whole other discussion entirely. For the time being, the connection between this mentality and the new law is that American students attending public school are learning things in the guidelines of what is deemed okay by their respective DOEs and local governments. When the local governance deems things like queer representation inappropriate, such as the case in Florida, problems arise.

What makes this law an item of such concern is its last clause; the statement regarding sexual orientation and gender, because it perpetuates the idea that the discussion of gender and sexuality is inherently perverted or erotic in nature. Giving the bill the moniker of “anti-grooming” is especially damaging for this reason. Grooming is an incredibly serious issue, one that IS present in this country, and using it to describe what this bill is preventing is not only diminishing the severity of what grooming is and the people it effects, but also a fear mongering tactic furthering the harmful stereotype that queer identity is something inherently sexual. Being gay or gender diverse is not an inherently sexual thing, there are children who know they are gay and gender non-conforming, and seeing examples of people like them in things like picture books or lessons will help them feel okay being who they are.

The vagueness of the bill is another cause for concern in my opinion, as the document itself does not explicitly state the grades it is effecting, and the guidelines of what is appropriate. “Age Appropriate” is subjective. It leaves teachers in a position where they are safer censoring themselves and their students to prevent being sued. It is naive to think that in a litigious society, such as the United States, that a good lawyer would not seek to use this vagueness to their client’s advantage. While this ability to sue may sound productive from the conservative perspective, abstaining from the discussion of queer issues will not create less gay adults, it will only increase the number of gay adults with deeply ingrained self-hatred. Additionally, it is important to ask oneself why a future with more queer and gender diverse people is future to fear.

The existence of queer teachers and parents are also important to consider. Opponents of the law are not suggesting gay sex be taught to kindergarteners, they’re suggesting that having books featuring two same-sex parents or gender-nonconforming children is something that should be protected. They are suggesting that a teacher should be able to disclose the fact that they have a partner of the same sex in the way that their co-workers are able to explain that they are married to someone of the opposite sex. They are suggesting that students from gender-diverse families or children of same-sex parents be allowed to discuss this aspect of their lives freely and be made to feel like it isn’t something to be ashamed of. It isn’t something they need to hide. We are not looking at queerness through the lens of sex but through the lens of identity, and it is necessary that we as a society are able to separate those two things, otherwise progress and equality will be incredibly difficult to achieve.

Finally, and possibly most detrimentally, this law sets an immediate precedent that paves the way for other legislation just like it. Similar bills are cropping up across the nation, all pushing the idea that including LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula is part of an agenda targeting American children. By propelling the narrative of connectivity between sexual crimes and homosexuality/gender-diversity, we are setting ourself back in time.

I cannot help but draw a connection in the prejudice being displayed in these bills to the prejudice displayed during the 1970’s campaign to overturn Miami-Dade County Ordinance 77-4, which protected job security for those identifying as gay. The campaign ran on similar principles: children in danger of being “brain-washed” by gay adults in their lives. Anita Bryant, a champion of the anti-ordinance movement, spoke frequently about saving children, pushing the notion that children need to be protected from gay people.

The threat is not gay teachers, it is not gay parents, it is not gay students. It is not people who do not align with the gender binary. The threat is not inclusive children’s books or lesson plans. The threat is legislators who perpetuate antiquated and dangerous bigotry. The threat is the effect this legislation will have on the mental health of our youth. If conservative legislators really cared about children, they would implement tools to help increase their education, not limit it.

Ali is the social media manager for the Buffalo chapter of Her Campus. She is a Political Science major with an affinity for crooked media podcasts and bad movies. She hopes she will one day learn how to take care of plants.
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