The anti-LGBT sentiments expressed by the Parental Rights in Education bill (infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) introduced by Ron DeSantis in Florida have continued to transcend the state. The main subject of this bill involves the prohibition of addressing any sexual orientation or gender identity in classroom settings. This also allows parents to disagree with their child’s curriculum, and to sue the school district under the justification that schools cannot withhold information about gender or sexuality issues from the children’s parents. While this bill is shocking and exclusionary to LGBTQ+ students and faculty, the sentiments expressed within the bill continue to spread, as other states enact similar policies.
With this homophobic sentiment spreading across the nation, LGBT youth have come under attack, especially within federally funded institutions such as schools. This is clearly demonstrated by Louisiana’s Mike Johnson and his introduction of the misleading “Stop Sexualization of Children Act'' alongside 32 additional Republicans. This new national version of the homophobic legislation passed in Florida continues the fictitious narrative that the LGBT community is inherently morse sexual and should not be allowed to have representation in schools. Additionally, the bill perpetuates the notion that teachers have a responsibility to notify students’ parents of any references made to sexuality or gender immediately, which directly places LGBT youth in harm's way.
This bill’s misleading title alone aims to evoke a sympathetic response among voters, one that ignores the actual content of the measure. This bill would effectively alienate and cause young LGBT students harm, despite Mike Johnson’s claims that the bill is “commonsense” due to the supposed threat of “immersing young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology” in schools that allow conversations regarding LGBT topics. This sentiment is clearly inaccurate, as young students are not being immersed in “sexual imagery” simply because they identify as a part of the LGBT community or are even just exploring their connection to the community. A classroom provides a safe environment for young students to explore these topics without feeling judgment from their parents; this bill effectively destroys this alternative safe space by forcing teachers to notify students’ parents of their identities, or of any questioning of identity that takes place within the classroom.
Further, this bill defines “sexually-oriented material” as “any depiction, description, or simulation of sexual activity, any lewd or lascivious depiction or description of human genitals, or any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.” Therefore, the content of the bill relates sexual orientation as well as gender expression to mature content, such as pornography, despite the clear distinction between the topics. Once again, this pushes the misguided rhetoric that members of the LGBT community are inherently more sexual than heteronormative individuals or couples. Further, the bill addresses its issue with sexual education for students under age 10, claiming it “encourages discussion of sexuality, sexual orientation, transgenderism, and gender ideology as early as kindergarten.” Once again, LGBT youth simply existing in schools does not promote graphic imagery or inappropriate discussions among students; the bill’s only purpose is to ostracize a large group of individuals simply because they do not fit into a heteronormative framework, making Republican legislators uncomfortable. The bill also calls out the ‘Drag Queen Story’ events (in which a drag queen will visit a school to tell their own story and read a book to a group of students) that take place in libraries, as it claims these events are too “sexually oriented.” Instead of banning the actual explicit or mature content for school children, this national “Don’t Say Gay” bill actively targets LGBT topics such as gender identity, dysphoria, transgenderism, and any sexual orientation that isn’t heteronormative.
An additional dimension of the conservative campaign in support of this legislation is a parent’s right to be involved in education, yet this dimension is simply an excuse to alienate LGBT youth; this is especially evident when analyzing the language utilized throughout this bill. A teacher should have the ability to protect a student’s wishes inside their own classroom, providing a safe environment for the student to explore their identity without the fear of being judged by their parents. A classroom also allows young students to express themselves in a new way, one in which they might not be comfortable expressing at home yet. This bill would not only force teachers to “out” students who are in the closet, but also force them to directly tell their parents about any discussions revolving around LGBT topics that are brought up. Not only is this idea promoted in southern states like the bill passed in Florida, it has also been introduced in swing states, including Michigan. Senate Resolution 166 in Michigan, as well as the Don’t Say Gay bill, both explore parental involvement in education when it comes to discussions about the LGBT community. These resolutions expect teachers to immediately disclose personal information regarding the sexuality, gender, and pronouns of their students to their parents. Once again, legislation with sentiments similar to this actively places LGBT youth in harms way, especially if the only place they can be themselves comfortably is in the classroom.
While the composition of Congress at the time of writing this consists of a majority Democratic caucus that would not let this national anti-LGBT legislation pass, the midterm elections on November 8th could change the trajectory of this bill. This is extremely important as this transcends the classroom, going way beyond simple instruction. Not only does the National Don’t Say Gay bill affect schools, but it also affects any institution that receives federal government funding; this effectively bans discussions or references to LGBT existence from taking place within these spaces. This shamelessly homophobic bill would affect the entire nation, directly attacking LGBT youth who are exploring their own identities in a safe manner. Instead of allowing this homophobia to pass, we need to focus on protecting our LGBT youth, not only in school environments, but in all federally funded institutions as well. It is important that the public fight for the protection of these LGBT safe spaces, whether that is through calling local representatives, writing letters to local officials, or participating in protests, we need to fight for our right to be safe in our communities. Consequently, Mike Johnson’s attempt at alienating LGBT youth in this act should not be passed, and should be treated solely as the clear example of political homophobia that it is.