Original illustration by Kit Mills

By Jessie Mitnick, age 14

The Parental Rights in Education bill, which aims to restrict teachers’ ability to discuss or teach anything related to sexual orientation and gender identity within classrooms, was signed into law at the end of March by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Supporters of the legislation say that it will improve parents’ ability to control the information that children receive regarding LGBTQ+ topics, therefore giving them increased parental control and authority. However, it has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics because it could effectively eliminate people’s right to even mention something related to the LGBTQ+ community within a school environment. 

“These bills [are] an overt form of structural transphobia and homophobia and it goes against all public health evidence in creating a safe and supportive environment for transgender, non-binary, queer, gay and lesbian youths and teachers to thrive.”

Arjee Restar

The legislation states that “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through grade 3, and also “in certain grade levels or in a specified manner” is prohibited. Many feel that this wording is ambiguous and does not directly outline what is prohibited. Opponents of the bill argue that this ambiguity could result in the ban being extended beyond the 3rd grade and apply to all K–12 classrooms.

“This kind of ever-present possibility of having to defend oneself will have its own chilling effects,” said Clay Calvert, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, to NBC News. He, along with all Florida teachers, will be subject to possible legal action if he teaches anything that may be interpreted as discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Florida has become a catalyst for a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills, inspiring many other states, such as Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana and New Jersey, to introduce similar legislation. Many LGBTQ+ rights advocates, including Equality Florida, have filed a lawsuit against Ron DeSantis aiming to block the law. “This effort to control young minds through state censorship–and to demean LGBTQ+ lives by denying their reality–is a grave abuse of power,” the lawsuit says. 

In 2020, gun-related injuries became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States. So far this year, there have been over 27 school shootings. As Republican leaders across the country continue to ban and vilify LGBTQ+ discussions, us kids are left wondering: Why won’t they target what’s really hurting us?

“These bills [are] an overt form of structural transphobia and homophobia,” Arjee Restar, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, explained to NPR, “and it goes against all public health evidence in creating a safe and supportive environment for transgender, non-binary, queer, gay and lesbian youths and teachers to thrive.”

Research has shown that these new laws will threaten the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. “Telling a child not to talk about their gender sends the message that something is wrong with them, which creates the kind of shame, feelings of low self-worth, and hopelessness that place trans youth at risk for so many negative mental health outcomes,” explained Abbie Goldberg, a Clark University psychology professor who focuses on gender diversity and sexual orientation, to Psych Central. 

The Trevor Project found in 2021 that kids who attend LGBTQ+ affirming schools have reduced rates of depression and anxiety. Goldberg explains that talking about sexual orientation and gender identity with young children helps reduce stigma around sexual and gender diversity. “Talking about these things doesn’t confuse children — it allows them a space to discuss things they’re already wondering about and curious about,” Goldberg said. 

Creating safe environments is essential to all children and teens, whether they identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or not. Providing support and understanding from those around them creates an environment of empathy and understanding among peers. 

In 2020, gun-related injuries became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States. So far this year, there have been over 27 school shootings. As Republican leaders across the country continue to ban and vilify LGBTQ+ discussions, us kids are left wondering: Why won’t they target what’s really hurting us?

Glossary

Ambiguous: Capable of being understood in two or more possible ways
Catalyst: Something that provokes or speeds significant change or action
Demean: To lower in character or dignity
Transphobia/Homophobia: Dislike of or prejudice against transsexual, transgender or gay people.
Transgender: A person who does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth
Non-binary: Gender identities that are not solely male or female‍
Stigma: Social characterization of a behavior or condition as a sign of disgrace
Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another