The highly controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557) in Florida will be making its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk after passing the state Senate 22-17.
This sweeping piece of legislation threatens to censor discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in early elementary education. The author of the bill, Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Sumter), insists that the provision is intended to give parents more control over a student’s well-being – but the measure would not only bar the discussion of sexuality and identity themes, it would also require teachers and other school personnel to withhold certain types of information – even if students ask about it.
This bill poses a serious risk to queer youth who confide in teachers and other personnel; it could also put teachers and staff in a difficult position, perhaps forcing them to “out” students to comply with state law, potentially putting queer students into dangerous situations. The bill also grants parents the right to sue schools if school personnel introduce forbidden topics (even innocently). The obvious goal here is to chill any discussion of these issues, putting school personnel into an especially tough position. This bill could also negatively affect students in LGBTQ+ households in which any discussion of their family dynamics will be barred from classrooms.
If DeSantis signs this bill, Florida will join Georgia, Tennessee and other states in a push to eliminate LGBTQ+ education from the curriculum – a long-sought goal of Christian nationalists, but one that many mainstream religious leaders oppose. Although some private schools have been engaging in this sort of anti-LGBTQ effort for years, it’s discouraging to see the public school system’s ability to teach a curriculum that is inclusive of all of its students under attack.
Opposition to the bill has been widespread across Florida. In some parts of the state, students protested the bill by walking out of classrooms in support of their queer peers. Organizations like Equality Florida have also rebuked the bill and are asking constituents to demand that DeSantis veto this hurtful piece of legislation. And hundreds of businesses, including Disney, Marriott, Hilton and American Airlines, vocally oppose these efforts.
It’s clear that Florida’s LGBTQ+ youth deserve better.
Victoria Williams is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship.