By Corinna Schroll
Based on the latest developments, it seems the Republican Party is on a crusade to erase civil rights for minorities in the US once again. The Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, and other politicians intend to make same-sex marriage illegal as well as the act of gay sex itself. But these developments are nothing new, and earlier this year Floridan governor Ron DeSantis signed the so-called Parental Rights Education bill by Republican authors, which prohibits teachers to instruct students from kindergarten through third grade on sexual orientation and gender identity. The vague language of the bill has raised concerns that it will be used to suppress even the acknowledgment of the LGBT+ community in schools. Additionally, the bill also allows parents to sue for damages if a school district does not take their complaint about a child’s education and essentially forbids discussion of LGBT+ issues and identities. To quote Jaclyn Diaz in her article Florida’s governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ from March 28th, 2022:
DeSantis said teaching kindergarten-aged kids that “they can be whatever they want to be” was “inappropriate” for children.
This arguably unconstitutional bill, also dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, takes effect on July 1, but various LGBT+ organizations have already filed a lawsuit to challenge it. It would make some sense if any sexual education was deemed inappropriate for children until a certain age to protect their innocence – yet it seems to only be inappropriate if the sexual orientation is anything other than heterosexual. This bill is nothing but censorship and suppression, and it will be harmful to LGBT+ individuals such as teachers, parents, or children. It destroys an environment of acceptance and instead teaches children that not everyone is allowed to live their life with respect.
Even Disney has weighed in as one of the major employers in Florida with Disneyland, and the company has criticized the bill as well as vowed to donate to LGBT+ organizations to help. But DeSantis is not backing down.
Another Right-wing figure with ties to white Christian nationalists, Christopher Rufo, has only added fuel to the fire through purposefully misleading statements, such as stating sexual education programs for children taught lessons “on ‘sex liberation,’ ‘gender exploration,’ ‘BDSM,’ ‘being a sex worker, ‘self-managed abortions,’ and ‘sexual activity while using licit and illicit drugs.’”
His claims are false and dangerous; children aren’t taught queer theory in school, which investigates ways in which gender identity and sexual orientations other than heterosexuality have appeared throughout history and in our daily lives. Instead, children are offered more age-appropriate approaches to the concept. Primary schools for instance provide relationships education during which children learn about LGBT+ issues, other types of diversity, or that families come in all shapes and sizes. It seems Rufo’s inflammatory comments only serve the end goal of purging free and critical thinking from schools.
You can force people to stop saying gay, but that won’t stop anyone from being “gay”. Suppressing people of a different sexual orientation throughout history may have silenced and erased them and their identities, but it has never stopped them from existing. While a little boy in Florida may not be taught about different sexual orientations or gender identities, it won’t stop him from liking another little boy in his class. This bill may be meant to protect children, but arguably it will harm them more than it might protect them. LGBT+ children without support from their family or peers show a dangerous trend toward developing depression, and social support is one of the main aspects of suicide prevention. Many trans children for instance show a staggering suicide rate when they are not met with support during their teenage years. Being gay or trans is not a choice but taking one’s own life is one that even children can make; current statistics suggest that childhood suicide is on the rise. Leaving this earth is not a thought any child should have when their lives have not even truly begun. But if queer children grow up without the love and support they need from family and their environment, they will undoubtedly suffer and might lose interest in continuing their life as it is.
This law destroys supportive environments teachers are building for their students, and while it suppresses any LGBT+ students, it also teaches children to reject those who are different and don’t fit the “norm” and the hateful environment this creates puts LGBT+ youth at risk for bullying, violence, self-harm, and suicide.
It is not the evil homosexuals corrupting and harming the children, but the bills of right-wing politicians who are hurting them and in the worst-case driving them to end their own lives. Teaching children about different kinds of love and gender identity also teaches them to not only accept others but themselves for who they are. A kindergarten-aged child understands who they are, and they will also understand when they are different and not accepted. Children should not grow up scared to express themselves, hiding who they are and living in fear of being outed against their will. The Parental Rights Education bill is a step backward for Florida and if it is not opposed, will harm many of the children it is allegedly meant to protect.