By Jessie Mitnik, age 14
Congressional Republicans introduced what some are calling a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in October 2022. The Florida law catapulted a rise in legislation restricting educators’ ability to teach anything relating to the LGBTQ+ community.
Last March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act of 2022, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, into law. In response, people began protesting nationwide, including corporations like the Walt Disney Company, who released a statement saying the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” The new proposed bill prohibits all schools from using any “sexually-oriented material,” specifying that this includes “any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.”
Florida schools are now policing students and notifying parents of anything suggesting that a student may be LGBTQ+, removing books in libraries, as well as keeping tabs on bathrooms and telling parents if a student uses a bathroom that does not align with their biological sex.
Recently, updates have been made to strip violators of their educator’s licenses if they are found to be breaching the law, according to a new rule published by the state’s Department of Education. Abigail McLeod, a teacher in Florida, published an op-ed in Slate, stating that these laws are making teachers’ jobs “nearly impossible.”
Critics have argued that supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” policy are responding to a problem that just doesn’t exist, and could negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQ youth. Statistics have shown that if LGBTQ+ teens are barred from learning about and freely expressing their gender and/or sexual identity, they are more likely to have a decline in their mental health. Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of LGBTQ rights group GLSEN, said in a statement to the Washington Post that the Florida rule “will harm LGBTQ+ students, who we know benefit by having supportive teachers and inclusive curriculum in the classroom.”
Vulnerable children and teens all over the country would be negatively impacted and targeted if these laws spread nationwide. Norma Schwartz, a Miami-Dade County parent and PTA member, said to WVSN 7 local news, “It goes against [the PTA’s] mission and vision, to empower all children, not make them feel like they don’t belong.”