Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Compounds Trauma for LGBTQ Students of Color

The Florida state senate passed legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics on Tuesday as part of a broader attack on lessons about LGBTQ identity, sex education, racial justice and other subjects that are routinely exploited by right-wing media outlets and politicians to galvanize their base.

The legislation, known officially as HB 1557, would ban teachers from discussing sexual and gender identity in all classrooms below the fourth grade and require lessons for older students be “age appropriate,” a vague standard that opponents say would swamp cash-strapped public schools with expensive litigation. As advocates point out, the bill is also a “Don’t Say Trans” bill that comes as Republican policymakers in Texas, AlabamaTo score political points, politicians from all walks of the political spectrum are trying to undermine the rights of transgender youths and their parents.

LGBTQ and civil rights groups warn that the legislation will stifle teachers and students and foster intolerance at schools for LGBTQ youth and students from non-binary families. Advocates for LGBTQ students say that the legislation will not only suppress history lessons and anti-racist curricula, but it will also put them in the crosshairs in a partisan culture war. This is detrimental to their psychological and emotional well-being.

For Black students and students of color who already struggle to feel safe at school, the harms of the anti-LGBTQ legislation would be “amplified ten-fold,” according to David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a leading Black LGBTQ+ civil rights group.

“No one gains from watching elected officials bully vulnerable children and their families in an attempt to deny that LGBTQ+ people exist and deserve love and respect,” Johns said in a statement.

Transgender, transgender, and non-binary youths, gay, lesbian, and bisexual reportThe rate of discrimination and mental distress is significantly higher than that of their cisgender or heterosexual peers. LGBTQ youth from color are also more likely to report suicidal thoughts. According to a NBJC national survey, nearly 52 percent of Black LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 40 percent feel unsafe because they are gender-expressed.

“The reality is simple — this will hurt children, increase suicide rates among the LGBTQ+ kids, and hurt non-LGBTQ+ children who would benefit from learning to celebrate diversity and build skills that enable them to thrive in the real world,” Johns said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported the legislation and could sign the bill into law soon as protests and school walkouts continue in Florida. Students created popular online petitions against the legislation, including one successful petitionA student who was suspended from school in eastern Florida because he organized protests should be allowed back in the classroom.

Victoria Kirby York is the deputy executive Director of NBJC and is raising a young family with her wife. Greg Abbott, Texas, is exploiting the fear of a fringe minority within the GOP by supporting queer kids with antitrans and antiLGBTQ+ policy in order to win the White House in 2024.

“And the sad thing is that they are not thinking of the impact the other way around, or they are thinking about it or they don’t care, which is really a tragedy,” York said in an interview. “Kids who are queer-identified or kids of color, they are worried about getting their teachers fired for talking about their families.”

Like other right-wing bills targeting educators, the Florida legislation allows reactionary parents to file lawsuits against schools if they believe their child was exposed to “inappropriate” material. According to the Trevor Project, a mental-health advocacy group, only 28 percent national middle and high school students reported learning about LGBTQ people or issues at school.

Advocacy groups sayFlorida’s LGBTQ students are already denied inclusive education in sex that affirms their identities, and gives them tools to stay safe and healthy. The bill threatens to chill even the current (and) laws. already inadequate) educational efforts where they exist.

York said many young children are trying to figure out sex and gender as well as racial identity before their parents feel ready to talk about the “birds and the bees” — and some parents never have these conversations in the first place. Teachers in Florida will have to deal with queer parents. Young children want to talk about their parents at school. Some children will be able talk about their parents while others with gay, bisexual and/or trans parents will feel punished.

“Stigma and shame start early,” York said.

Many students view public schools as a safe place for those who aren’t accepted by their parents. However, the legislation would prohibit school policies designed to prevent students being outed to parents and possibly facing abuse or expulsion from their homes. Only one-third of LGBTQ youth is accepted by their parents. surveyedLast year, a majority of LGBTQ-affirming households reported that they were LGBTQ-affirming. The problem of homelessness among LGBTQ youth has been a problem for a long time, with as high as 16 percent of Black and multiracial youth experiencing it. reportingThey were homeless.

This legislation could discourage educators from creating spaces that support students who are openly gay and lesbian. The Trevor Project reports that youth with access to such spaces had lower attempts at suicide in 2021.

“Attempting to prevent students from knowing and feeling comfortable using words, histories and experiences will not make those words, histories and experiences disappear,” Johns said.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation comes as Abbott moves to block transgender kids from receiving gender-affirming health care in Texas. Idaho lawmakers passed similarThis week, legislation will be introduced to stop youth from receiving gender-affirming health care. York said these measures — and the message they send to children, teenagers and adults — target some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our communities, including Black and Brown people who must also contend with the reality of racism at a young age.

Regardless of what politicians like DeSantis and Abbott do, York said parents must affirm their children and their identities, which is a “key indicator of success for our kids.”

“Parents like me are continuing to love and affirm their children … their identity and who they are begins to get shaped very early, and it’s important that they hear affirming messages early,” York said.