Amidst an unprecedented amount of restrictive and regressive legislation passed by Conservative states within the last few years, it is not much of a surprise that Florida is continuing this trend with the Parental Rights In Education Bill. It passed the Florida House of Representatives on February 18, was recently passed by the Senate on March 8, and will soon be reviewed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis who himself approves of the bill and fully intends on implementing its incredibly concerning and outdated policies.
It’s been deemed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by critics and LGBTQ advocates, since its primary goal is to eliminate any and all discussions surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill is framed by a deceptively harmless title, and Republican House Representative Joe Harding–the founder of the bill–claims that its sole purpose is to “empower parents” while also enhancing the quality of life for students. However, in practice, the bill would likely do the exact opposite of the latter aforementioned intention, as it would significantly weaken and silence the voices of LGBTQ youth.
Alongside the mandated absence of a mere mention or possible indication that sexuality or gender beyond the dominant norm exists, the Bill also grants parents the ability to sue an entire school district if they feel that an educator or other member of the district has violated this core principle. An additional amendment which was eventually revoked by Rep. Harding stated that schools would be required to report the sexual identity or gender of a child to their parents/guardians. This amendment reveals the malicious true intentions of Rep. Harding’s bill, as the required reporting of a student’s identity would out them to family members who may not necessarily be accepting of their child and could consequently place them in harm or danger. While these policies would indeed empower parents, it would be done at the expense of their children's own freedoms.
The LGBTQ community is one which already has disproportionately high rates of suicide and depression, and a contributing factor to that is the intense culture of conformity which is typically fostered within public schools. Ironically, the singular, narrow mindsets that culminate in this unwarranted bigotry can be countered with a quality education (one which can certainly be found within a public school).
Education is a force that shouldn’t ever bend to the ideology or agenda of a specific group, as it’s something that benefits from the existence of diversity and thrives on pulling influence from several varying perspectives. Because of this, a state’s censorship of certain novels or entire fields of study is alarming as it heavily restricts students’ access to knowledge. Since education is capable of exposing us to diverse views, it is a force that is capable of bringing genuine change and equality to the world. LGBTQ students commonly find companionship and support not only from each other, but from their straight educated friends who possess the knowledge necessary to empathize with them.
As much as public school can torment children in the LGBTQ community, it can also provide them with outlets or safe spaces to freely express themselves without the fear of familial retributions. Sadly, this space is removed from them if they live with the constant fear that a teacher could see them, a boy, holding hands with another boy–or a transgender child, entering their correct bathroom, and knowing that the teacher is obligated, not by moral conduct, but by the law itself to report them and out them to their families. Students would no longer feel safe or comfortable being themselves within public school settings, only magnifying their intense feelings of isolation and confusion.
As seen with the Right’s prior efforts to remove black history from public schools’ curriculum, the attempted erasure of a marginalized group’s oppression and struggles to achieve equality can produce incredibly detrimental effects for both members of said marginalized group as well as those in a more elevated status. If we deny the existence of the LGBTQ community within the context of the classroom, it places both those who do and do not identify as members of the community at a disadvantage. It’s much easier to minimize the strifes of a given group or even propagate them yourself if you are never aware that those challenges–tied directly to a minority identity–exist to begin with.
Ultimately, the bill, if passed, would likely promote a culture of ignorance amongst straight students, enabling prejudice since the open acknowledgement and attempted tolerance of non-heteronormative individuals would be virtually nonexistent. Even more so, it would alienate LGBTQ students who would indirectly be taught from an incredibly young age that identities such as theirs are not that common, that their stories simply aren’t worth telling, and ultimately that they are unnatural.