One might assume that their government is doing everything in its power to provide support and bring awareness to marginalized groups of people, as they’re the ones most in need of it. Sadly, with legislation such as Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, that notion would be proven wrong. This bill perpetuates outdated, homophobic values in the United States, harming students.
The bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents, was signed into law March 28 by the state’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to take effect July 1. Since then, many state lawmakers, including Ohio’s, have proposed similar bills.
The nickname “Don’t Say Gay” comes from one of the most noteworthy aspects of the bill. According to the Florida State Senate, the law prohibits public school classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade or in a way that is “not appropriate” for students.
Students from kindergarten through third grade would not be the only ones affected by this legislation. While these age groups cannot have any discussion or instruction on the previous topics, older students can—it just has to be “age appropriate.”
One thing is clear: the motivation of the bill is to stop, or at least diminish, any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in school. It disproportionately targets LGBTQ+ identifying students, which is troubling for numerous reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay and bisexual youths are more likely to experience violent victimization, at a higher risk for suicide than their heterosexual peers and subject to more bullying in school.
The law’s ban on the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity topics is the opposite of what lawmakers should be doing if they want to improve the health of LGBTQ+ students. Raising awareness and providing information about LGBTQ+ topics is how stigmas and biases are prevented; to prohibit free discourse can only do harm.
Furthermore, the bill becomes increasingly harmful when what the law prohibits is not explicitly stated. The law does not qualify what is appropriate for students to discuss, nor does it define sexual orientation or gender identity, making it difficult to understand.
This lack of clarity also makes it difficult to challenge. As stated by the Florida Senate, the bill empowers parents to take action against the school district in order to obtain a judgment from a court that the district has breached this code. Parents are entitled to sue the school district whenever they believe the school to be violating these vaguely written laws.
According to The New York Times, the authorization of parents to enforce the law was also used in legislation restricting conversation of critical race theory. This leads to schools preemptively canceling events and removing reading materials from shelves as a means to avoid costly legal action. Parents shouldn’t have the right as individuals to dictate a school’s curriculum. If parents could manage their children’s education, there wouldn’t be a need for public schools.
This law is just one more piece of legislation taking away freedoms from groups of people. Without diverse education, students will lose the valuable discussions that could otherwise combat prejudice.