Here we go again. Hot on the heels of 2021, which the ACLU deemed the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ legislative attacks in the U.S., 2022 is shaping up to pass a record-shattering number of anti-LGBTQ measures into law. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, there are roughly 280 proposals that will erode transgender rights in statehouses across the U.S.
Florida's New 'Don't Say Gay' Bill
The thing that homophobic lawmakers don't realize is that they can try to pretend a community doesn't exist, but young people still turn out to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning.gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. The Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the "Don’t Say Gay” bill, was passed by the Republican-led House Education and Employment Committee before passing in the Senate on March 8th, 2022.
The legislation, which applies to kindergarten through grade 3, requires the execution of “procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children,” which would gag teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom that are “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” and allows parents to take legal action against school districts if they think their “fundamental right” as parents has been violated. Oh, and if they win, parents can collect damages and attorney’s fees. Yay for compensation culture.
Evangelicals using religion for political gain is nothing new, so it’s not surprising to see state representative and evangelical preacher Joe Harding (R-Ocala) peddling hate, oppression, and emotional harm. Harding claimed the bill is “about defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent,” then adds, “That job can only be given to you by above.” Seems like an abuse of the holy if you ask me.
If LGBTQ teens can’t talk about gender identity and sexual orientation topics at school, you better believe they’re going to go online for information. TikTok has become a haven for queer and questioning teens to explore and connect with one another.
“This will kill kids…You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in."
Chasten Buttigieg, LGBTQ+ advocate and husband to former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted: “This will kill kids…You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in.” He cited data from the Trevor Project noting that “42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide last year.” Meanwhile, the organization found that “LGBTQ+ youth who learned about LGBTQ+ issues or people in classrooms had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the last 12 months.”
LGBTQ+ youth are already underrepresented in school curriculums, including sex education, says sexuality educator Erica Smith. “Being left out of sex education already has dire consequences for queer and trans youth, as they deal with higher rates of unwanted sexual health outcomes than straight and cisgender youth do,” Smith says. “But banning the mere mention of any queer and trans identities only serves to shroud their identities in shame, silence, and secrecy – this is a very clear and explicit message that LGBTQ+ identities are unacceptable. This messaging will undoubtedly contribute to the already high rates of mental health struggles, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among queer youth.”
"This messaging will undoubtedly contribute to the already high rates of mental health struggles, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among queer youth.”
David Clark, lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office, believes the bill has some merits. It fundamentally protects parents' and legal guardians' right to parent their children. However, Clark says, it also further limits the community's education system when schools should be a safe and sensible space for discussions regarding the issues that impact today's youth.
“This Florida bill's provision requiring educators and administrators to ‘out’ LGBTQ+ students to their parents without their consent also infringes LGBTQ+ rights,” Clark says. “The bill secures greater parenting autonomy and influence to parents and legal guardians by stripping the community and their LGBTQ+ children of their very rights to freedom of self-expression. This ultimately is a loss for the LGBTQ+ community, providing less power to each individual on the control over their sexual orientation and the self-determination of how, when, and where they should address them to external parties.”
Despite the GOP’s latest attempt to promote bigotry, Smith points out that, in reality, 85% of parents surveyed supported discussion of sexual orientation as part of sex education in high school. “It's a small vocal minority who does not, and they are leading this charge,” she says.
Smith fears this legislation will embolden the homophobic and transphobic vocal minorities in other states to push for similar legislation. “The state of schools, especially including sex ed curriculums, is already dire for queer youth. This is the last thing they need.”
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says