Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill condemned for harmful impacts on LGBTQ youth

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill condemned for harmful impacts on LGBTQ youth
A gay pride parade in Washington, D.C. in 2011, Wikimedia Commons
If the Supreme Court shoots down Roe v. Wade, get ready for an all-out assault on gay rights

Advocates for civil rights are sounding the alarm after a Republican lawmaker in Florida filed an amendment to House Bill 1557—dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics—that would require schools to out LGBTQ students even if educators believe the disclosure will result in "abuse, abandonment, or neglect."

H.B. 1557 and its companion, S.B. 1834, would effectively prohibit teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in primary grades or at any level "in a manner that is not age-appropriate," a term that remains undefined. It would also require all school districts' trainings on "student support services" to adhere to the guidelines, standards, and frameworks established by the Florida Department of Education, which currently excludes anti-bullying resources meant to help prevent LGBTQ youth suicides.

Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill—advanced by the state's GOP-controlled Senate Education Committee and House Education and Employment Committee and endorsed by far-right Gov. Ron DeSantis—was already the subject of nationwide criticism before its House sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding (R-22), filed his amendment on Friday.

While the legislation originally allowed school personnel to withhold information about a student's sexual orientation or gender identity from a parent "if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect," Harding's amendment states that "the school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within six weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.""This will have devastating consequences for our youth," Rep. Carlos Smith (D-49), Florida's first LGBTQ Latino legislator, tweeted Sunday.

Citing research from The Trevor Project and youth.gov, Smith noted that young LGBTQ people are four times more likely than their peers to seriously consider, make a plan for, or attempt suicide, and they are more likely to be unhoused for various reasons, including family rejection; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and financial and emotional neglect.

"#DontSayGay makes this worse," he said.

"This backwards cruelty must stop," added Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. "Speak out against targeted hate legislation and support those leading the charge to protect civil rights... before it's too late!"

Equality Florida, the state's largest organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has launched a petition people can use to tell lawmakers to oppose legislation that the group says "is meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom."

Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby (D-70), a U.S. House candidate in Florida's 13th congressional district, said Sunday on social media that "proponents of the bill and amendment don't ACTUALLY care about families and children."

"If they did, we wouldn't see this harmful amendment to an already trash bill," Rayner-Goolsby added. "Cruelty is the point."

Journalist Judd Legum shared a list of companies that have donated to Harding since 2020, including Spectrum, Chevron, Comcast, NBC, Merck, and T-Mobile. Last week, Legum, Tesnim Zekeria, and Rebecca Crosby detailed how "major corporations that claim to be champions of LGBTQ rights" have been bankrolling the GOP lawmakers behind the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

"This is scheduled for a vote in the full Florida House on Tuesday," Legum said Sunday on social media. "Opponents have been given 40 MINUTES to speak."

"I've reached out to all the top corporate donors to the politicians behind this bill," he added. "None have responded. We did not see this kind of corporate ambivalence to anti-LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina in 2016. 2022 is different."

Florida Republicans are far from alone in pushing bigoted legislation. The Hill reported Saturday that GOP lawmakers have proposed 15 "Don't Say Gay"-style censorship bills nationwide.

According to the outlet:

While Florida is currently a poster state for anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum laws, others are proposing and moving faster on farther-reaching bills. Oklahoma legislators have put five measures before its Congress that regulate how schools from K-12 to higher education teach LGBTQ+ issues. Two bills, S.B. 1142 and S.B. 1654, would prohibit librarians and teachers from distributing materials on or outright discussing "any form of non-procreative sex," gender identity, and "lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues."
Another Oklahoma Senate bill would ban public schools from employing anyone who "promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students." And S.B. 1141 would bar requiring public university courses on "gender, sexual, or racial diversity, equality, or inclusion," supplementing an already-passed House bill that is currently part of a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU.

Jeffrey Sachs, a researcher at PEN America, recently noted that GOP lawmakers across the U.S. have introduced at least 137 bills that aim to limit the ability of teachers and students to discuss gender, racism, and other topics—including a growing number of proposals to establish so-called "tip lines" that would empower parents to discipline teachers.

Earlier this month, Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida, warned that the "dangerously vague provisions" in Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill would have "a chilling effect on support for LGBTQ+ youth because it creates new costly liabilities for school districts. Under the bill, any parent who thinks that a classroom discussion was inappropriate or who is unsupportive of a district's policies would be given broad powers to sue for damages and attorneys' fees."

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent has argued that the "combination of... vagueness and punitive mechanisms such as rights of action and tip lines" is intentionally designed to promote self-censorship. "Precisely because teachers might fear that they can't anticipate how they might run afoul of the law—while also fearing punishment for such transgressions—they might skirt difficult subjects altogether."

"Calls for maximal parental choice and control in schools," wrote Sargent, "have been used by the right for decades as a smoke screen to sow fears and doubts about public education at its ideological foundations."

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