The Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, is discriminatory, dangerous, and homophobic and would put many LGBTQIA+ families and students at risk.
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Students doing a presentation about LGBTQI rights at school
Credit: Getty

Florida recently passed legislation that will go into effect on July 1, 2022 that will endanger LGBTQIA+ families and students. The Parental Rights in Education bill (also referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" bill) claims to defend the bond between parent and child. In actuality, it puts at-risk kids at greater risk, marginalizes LGBTQIA+ parents and students, and erases LGBTQIA+ people, culture, and history from Florida schools.

The soon-to-be law requires district school boards to adopt procedures that "reinforce the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner."

Sounds rather benign. But what exactly is "specified manner?"

The bill goes on to prohibit school districts from "encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity."

I'd say that's rather specific. Discriminatory, even.

In addition to encouraging homophobia and transphobia, the bill also empowers parents to litigate against school districts if they think their "fundamental right" as parents has been violated. The committee for this bill heard testimony from a Florida mother who sued her local school district for providing support to her gender nonconforming child without her knowledge.

If a child would rather confide in their teacher or counselor, perhaps the parents should examine the messages communicated at home. If they've made it clear that being LGBTQIA+ is wrong, sinful, or unacceptable, can you really blame children for going to someone else for support?

In an ideal world, children should be able to talk to their parents first about the important issues going on in their lives. Yet even in the most supportive and accepting households, kids often feel the need to seek counsel elsewhere. A big part of a child's development is exercising independence; finding their identity separate of their parents or caregivers. A truly loving and supportive parent welcomes sound advice and encouragement from any trusted source.

Yet this bill could easily be used in ways that cause real harm to LGBTQIA+ students and parents. And as a gay father of a tween son discovering his own identity, this is troubling on so many levels.

This legislation could cripple the ability of school counselors and other trusted educators to listen to and offer support to students at a vital stage in their development. It could exclude anything but heterosexual, cisgender information from sex education classes—rendering anyone outside those parameters as abnormal or nonexistent. It could prohibit kids with LGBTQIA+ parents from discussing their families at school, creating feelings of shame and rejection. And it could "out" students to their parents without the child's consent—oftentimes a dangerous prospect depending on the home environment.

While I grew up in a much different time, I still experienced the value of seeing and knowing other LGBTQIA+ people. I spent my youth closeted and fearful, going through nearly a decade of various forms of conversion therapy, and once even considering suicide. It was only when I met, worked with, and befriended LGBTQIA+ people that I realized being gay was not the lonely, dangerous place the church, the media, and society had made it out to be.

Much progress has been made since my coming out, which is why this bill is so troubling. Between his home and school environment, my 12-year-old child feels free to proclaim that he's bisexual, wear a rainbow flag pin to school, and proudly share his story of being adopted by his two gay fathers. I realize he's still developing and might not have it all figured out just yet. But the fact that he has the freedom to learn, grow, express, and discover himself without shame is what I'm most proud of.

Growing up is difficult enough already; why make it even tougher for those that struggle the most?

The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQIA+ youth. Their 2021 national survey on the mental health of young people found that over 42 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. This figure includes more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project's research also shows that students that learned about LGBTQIA+ issues or people in class had 23 percent lower odds of reporting attempting suicide in the past year. This supports the notion that open discussion is not only educational but lifesaving.

Chasten Buttigieg, a public figure and former teacher who is married to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, has spoken out against this bill as well. In an interview with CNN he said, "In Florida, what kind of state are you building, where you're essentially pushing kids back into the closet? You're saying, 'We can't talk about you. We can't even talk about your families.'"

How Parents Can Fight Back Against Anti-LGBTQIA+ Policies

While politics and legislation can seem daunting, there's plenty that parents can do to combat policies like this being enacted in their own school districts.

  • Pay attention to bills being introduced in your state, county, or district. Support groups fighting against harmful policies or participate directly. New legislation often involves public hearings where you can make your voice heard.
  • Learn about those running for school board in your state or district. When are elections? Who is running and what do they stand for?
  • Attend school board meetings, particularly when there's an opportunity for public input on policy decisions.
  • Run for office!
  • Talk directly to your school administrators, teachers, counselors. Ask how you can support them in supporting students dealing with issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Support local and national organizations that advocate for LGBTQIA+ youth and families. The Trevor Project, PFLAG, and GLSEN are good places to start.
  • Most importantly, let your kids know they are loved and supported no matter who they are now or will become. Understand that they might not always come to you first and encourage their relationships with trusted mentors and educators.

To be clear, the above list isn't just for parents of LGBTQIA+ kids or LGBTQIA+ parents—it's for our allies as well. Put your good intentions into practice to help keep all our families safe and supported. This will allow kids to grow up in a world where they can truly be themselves.