Florida’s furtherment of anti-queer legislation

With Florida’s recent advancement of HB1557 questions surrounding the safety of queer children in public schools are beginning to pop up.

Alex Sire, Columnist

CW: Mentions of suicide, bigotry, depression, and bullying

In a 69-47 vote, Florida’s widely criticized, “don’t say gay” bill has passed the house and advanced to the state senate. Titled the “Parental Rights in Education bill,” HB 1557 would ban the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools. Joe Harding, the Republican representative who proposed the bill, claims that the ban of education surrounding gender identity and sexuality creates “appropriate boundaries” and “empowers parents.” By masquerading blatant queerphobia as parental empowerment, republican lawmakers gave the illusion that this bill is protecting Florida’s youth from LGBTQIA+ identities. However, the implication that queer identities are an aspect of life that children must be protected from is unsettling, to say the least. 

The “Don’t Say Gay bill” would greatly jeopardize the safety and security of students and parents. If passed, existing protections for LGBTQIA+ children and parents would be undermined. This bill could also intimidate teachers out of providing a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for their students. This could also greatly increase levels of bullying and harassment that LGBTQIA+ students are already subjected to. By treating LGBTQIA+ identities as unspeakable, the existing stigma surrounding queerness is perpetuated. 

Earlier this week, Harding withdrew an amendment that would force school administrators to inform parents of a student’s sexual orientation within six weeks of learning if they were not heterosexual. For a lawmaker who supposedly cares so much about boundaries, this formerly-proposed amendment majorly oversteps them. This amendment was not withdrawn due to a change of heart. In fact, Harding seemed to stand by it, stating that “the exaggeration and misrepresentation in reporting about the amendment was a distraction; all the amendment did was create procedures around how, when, and how long information was withheld from parents so that there was a clear process and kids knew what to expect.” He then went on to say, “Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student. Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives.” The attempt at policing childhood crushes in order to enforce a bill so utterly entrenched in heteronormativity is absolutely disturbing. While the amendment has now been withdrawn, its proposal in and of itself speaks volumes about the true intent of this bill. 

As mentioned earlier, even without legislation barring the discussion of gender identity and sexuality, LGBTQIA+ children are at a heightened risk of bullying. Disturbingly, high rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation among queer children have also been widely documented. Amit Paley, CEO of the LGBTQIA+ youth suicide prevention group, the Trevor Project, said, “When lawmakers treat LGBTQ topics as taboo and brand our community as unfit for the classroom, it only adds to the existing stigma and discrimination, which puts LGBTQ young people at greater risk for bullying, depression, and suicide.”

At the moment it is unclear whether or not Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, would sign the bill if given the opportunity. However, in early February he signaled his support for the proposal, stating, “We’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘oh, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff.’ They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate.”

At the time of this bill’s proposal, 15 other bills are under consideration in eight states that would limit how LGBTQIA+ identities are discussed in classroom settings. In the first two months of 2022 alone, more than 170 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills have been filed, at least 92 of which target trans people directly. This already greatly surpasses last year’s total of 139.

This proposed legislation directly endangers children. HB 1557 places elementary-aged children in republican lawmakers’ line of fire for no reason whatsoever. With the jarring up-tick in anti-queer legislation, I cannot help but fear for the queer youth of America. A recent survey by the Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplated suicide in the past year. This number jumps to 50% for transgender and gender-diverse youth. However, LGBTQIA+ youth who learn about gender-identity issues at school are 23% less likely to attempt suicide. Forcible silence will cause unimaginable damage to the lives of the queer children of America, many of whom are unable to feel safe at home or in the classroom. While Republican lawmakers tout HB 1557 as a means of establishing parental rights, it does not appear that they have considered how this bill interferes with the rights of queer children.