Don’t Say Gay

Charlotte Ury, Opinion Editor

The following events all happened in the span of two years: a group of boys in a Floridian high school protested against their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club by stomping on rainbow flags and calling students slurs (News4Jax); an eighth grader was attacked in a PE locker room by a tenth grader for his sexuality, all while his peers watched and recorded (Newsweek); and at an Oregon high school, LGBTQ+ kids were bullied and forced to read the Bible (New York Times).

These homophobic attacks all happened in schools, showing not only a much larger issue with our society but an issue with the way we discuss the LGBTQ+ community in schools. The bullies did not come up with the ideas of hate they were spreading but learned them. Although it’s near impossible to trace back the homophobia to any specific place, it’s clear that schools are not doing enough to combat these ideas. But instead of taking steps forward to rewrite and include a more inclusive curriculum, we are taking massive steps back.

Just a few weeks ago, the Florida Senate Education Committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay”, the bill has recieved major cricism for its inflammatory goal of “prohibiting a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The bill also gives parents the right to sue the school if they believe the bill is violated.

The problem with the bill isn’t teaching children age-appropriate curricula, it’s that “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” are not defined. For a right-leaning state like Florida, this bill is most definitely going to be used by parents to prevent conversations about gender and sexuality because of teachers’ fear of punishment.

This shouldn’t just be a concern to the LGBTQ+ community: it should be a concern to everyone. This bill dangerously veers into censorship under the misguided approach of giving parents control over their child’s education.

This law prevents teachers from teaching queer history in elementary school education, something that undeniably exists despite efforts to hide its existence. Important events like the Stonewall Riots and Supreme Court Cases like Bostock v. Clayton Country and Romer v. Evans played a pivotal role in the United State’s social and legislative evolution. How will they be taught if teachers have to censor their lessons for fear of legal consequences? Besides being landmark LGBTQ+ events, these events teach students about crucial civil rights movements and the struggle our ancestors went through to get us to the freedom and tolerance we have today. 

Although many schools in Florida already teach very little about LGBTQ+ history, the majority teach, or at the least reference, these cases. With this law put in place, students would learn about these issues much later—if they even learn about them at all.

Proponents of the bill believe it gives parents the right to control what their children learn in school. However, omitting important elements of civil rights history to appease parents is unacceptable. If schools didn’t teach everything that religions, parents, or even the teachers themselves disagreed with, they would be depriving students of fundamental parts of their curriculums.

Censorship around other events like slavery, evolution, and the Holocaust has also been called for in the name of “giving power to the parents.” There’s a classic saying, one that has been proven over and over again in the past: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  

LGBTQ+ people exist; they aren’t a “controversial ideology.” By ignoring a sizable population (estimates range from 3% to 8% of adults in the United States identify as LGBTQ+), we significantly limit the complexities of conversations about a significant part of our society. We learn about contemporary society at a very young age: it’s crucial we show the true diversity of America’s population.

When honest conversations about sexuality and gender identity are prevented or censored, it can lead to less compassion and awareness, and allow the dehumanization of a community. Lack of knowledge creates environments of fear and violence. At the age when kids are most vulnerable, they are being alienated from their peers and their schools.

For many gay youth, school is a safe place to express themselves since only one in three LQBTQ+ youth live in a supportive home (Time). When schools reduce the opportunity for open and supportive conversations, it limits their freedom to be themselves—and this can lead to disastrous consequences.

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing LGBTQ+ youth suicide, has found that LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to attempt, consider, or make a plan for suicide than their straight peers. They also found that LGBTQ+ students “who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school were 23% less likely to attempt suicide in the past year”.

Teaching LGBTQ+ history and having open discussions about identity will not “turn children gay.” It may make children more comfortable to come out and give them space to feel accepted, but it won’t magically transform genders and sexualities. 

We don’t change sexualities: we only change our labels. If after learning more about LGBTQ+, a student feels they identify with any aspect of it it doesn’t mean they’ve “magically become gay”. It means they found the right label. And if in a few years, they find that the label no longer applies, that’s great! All that matters is that we’ve given them the opportunity to learn more about themselves.

Everybody, including children, has the right to formulate their own opinions. Giving students the truthful, comprehensive resources they need to do so is essential. Because when most kids only learn about certain issues from their families, they tend to grow up with biased opinions. If we give students a new perspective on issues, we give them the chance to become more accepting and inclusive.

So, why does this matter to us at Liberty? It’s true that the majority of people reading this are most likely straight or cisgender, and since Washington state is very Democratic so the likelihood of any similar bills passing here is low. Yet just because we aren’t seeing the changes to our personal lives now, does not mean we won’t see them in a few centuries.

However cliche, children are the future. Education and the way we are taught has a massive impact on the way the country grows and develops. Regardless of your beliefs on LGBTQ+ history, laws, and the mix between parents and educators, there’s a clear reason to resist the Floridian law: we need a country that is more understanding and educated without bias.

Vote and send letters to Floridian senators, protest and raise awareness online, and offer support to LGBTQ+ people around you. Do it for the young queer kids who often grow up misunderstood and who believe they are alone because that’s all they’ve been taught. 

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill will do the opposite of what it was intended to: it will hurt, rather than help our children.  By taking away one of the safest places for LQBTQ+ youth, the bill prevents queer youth from expressing themselves safely.

You can’t choose to be gay, but you can choose to support your peers during the most formative years of their lives. 

Works Cited:

CNN: “Florida advances “Don’t Say Gay” bill”

MiamiHerald: “What’s ahead for parents, students…”

Human Rights Campaigns: “We are here”

News4Jax: “Video shows St. Johns County students yelling anti-gay slurs at classmates”

NewsWeek: “Gay Eighth-Grader Pummeled in High-school locker Room”

The New York Times: “L.G.B.T students in Oregon were bullied and forced to read bible”

Time: “9 Supreme Court cases that shaped LGBTQ rights”

CNN: “Don’t Say Gay opinion”

The Trevor Project: “Estimate of how often LGBTQ youth attempt Suicide in the U.S.”