The Florida legislature has caused outrage nationwide with its passage of HB 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Far-right Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.
The bill, which has sparked widespread public outcry, will effectively prohibit the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools through third grade. Furthermore, the bill requires schools to “adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” In other words, schools may be forced to “out” students to their parents.
To ensure these outrageous provisions are enforced, the bill explicitly permits parents to sue their school districts if they think their child’s school violates the provisions of this bill.
The implications of this bill are incredibly dangerous. First and foremost, prohibiting discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom will contribute to the erasure and silencing of LGBTQ students, parents, and teachers within the school district. Advocates note that these policies will be enormously detrimental to LGBTQ students’ mental health. LGBTQ youth already face overwhelmingly high rates of depression, and are over four times as likely to attempt suicide when compared to their peers.
Furthermore, LGBTQ students with unsupportive parents will be forced to conceal their identities at school as well as at home, or face being outed to their parents. Students who might otherwise feel safe to confide in a trusted teacher or school counselor will no longer have those options to turn to, deepening their isolation. Those who are prematurely outed to their parents may face serious repercussions, including attempts at conversion therapy, other abuse or even homelessness.
Empowering parents to sue school districts for fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students sets a dangerous precedent, and is sure to contribute to the growing teacher shortage within the state of Florida.
Florida politicians are ignoring the real problems Floridians are facing — urgent crises like high utility rates, low wages, a lack of affordable housing, environmental degradation, climate change, and contaminated water — to instead attack and silence oppressed groups, and to silence and penalize teachers. A similar motivation is behind the racist ban on so-called “Critical Race Theory.”
Struggle across the country vs. bigotry
Florida residents are not taking this lying down. Demonstrators gathered outside the Florida State Capitol as legislators voted on this shameful bill, and grassroots organizing efforts are spreading across the state. Advocates from Pensacola to Tallahassee to Miami are organizing and mobilizing to fight back against these outrageous attacks on LGBTQ youth.
And the struggle is nationwide. These disgusting attacks on the rights of LGBTQ people are not limited to Florida. Right-wing state legislators have introduced a barrage of measures across the country promoting different forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in an effort to turn back the clock and roll back gains won over the course of decades of people’s struggle. More than 200 discriminatory anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced just in January 2022.
The governor of Florida is attempting to outdo all the rest with his wanton displays of bigotry. DeSantis is considered to be a likely frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination if Donald Trump does not run. Through his cowardly attacks on LGBTQ youth, DeSantis is hoping to advance his own career and cement his status as the heir-apparent on the far right.
We need to continue to build a fighting movement in every part of the country to defeat these anti-LGBTQ laws. Most people reject these extreme measures, and this majority can be mobilized to defeat the bigoted attacks and win legal and social equality.