Florida is making moves. On Tuesday, the Florida Senate Education Committee advanced the Parental Rights in Education bill (known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill). It now goes to two more committees before it’s presented to the full Senate as well as the House. The controversial bill would prevent school districts from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary classrooms. It requires school districts to give parents all information related to a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being. There’s also a provision for parents to be able to sue districts that don’t follow these requirements. Proponents say this is all about parents’ rights. Critics like Chasten Buttigieg, however, worry about the potentially disastrous consequences for LGBTQ youth.
Chasten Buttigieg tells FL Gov. Ron DeSantis “this will kill kids”
Buttigieg—teacher, author, and husband of Secretary of Transportation and former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg—makes some excellent points about how problematic Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is. In an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart, Buttigieg says the proposed bill would tell young students with emerging LGBTQ identities “that something is wrong with you. So wrong and twisted that we can’t even talk about you in school.”
As he explains in a panel discussion on Twitter, and knows from his own experience as a closeted gay youth in northern Michigan, the trauma of being repeatedly told that you don’t belong compounds over time. This trauma is associated with a slew of negative outcomes for LGBTQ young people. According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. That’s a statistic that we should be responding to with “urgency and compassion”—not further marginalization.
“No one asked for this”
In the same panel discussion, Buttigieg posits that Floridians aren’t really asking for this, especially families and teachers. “I can think of 20 things off the top of my head that teachers need help with, and this is not one of them… [This bill] does nothing for the people of Florida. It does nothing for families. It actually does nothing for kids except harm, and it’s not what we should be focusing on.” So not only does this bill scapegoat a vulnerable community, it’s a waste of time and resources better spent on actual problems.
“Teachers were my safe place”
Research by the Trevor Project found that having just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40 percent. For many kids, that person is a teacher. Many LGBTQ young people experience family rejection. School may be the only place where they feel safe to be themselves. So what happens when they can’t go to their teachers because talking about their identities is “inappropriate” for the classroom? Or they have to worry about teachers outing them to their parents? (There is a provision for withholding in the case that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.)
As teachers, it’s our job to make sure all kids feel welcome. “They just want to learn, and they want to be safe in school.” And this bill gets in the way of that.