Florida is terrifying. “Don’t Say Gay” Act was signed into law.

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Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has signed the state’s contentious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill into law, despite a national – and international – outcry.

Florida is terrifying. "Don't Say Gay" Act was signed into law.
Florida is terrifying. “Don’t Say Gay” Act was signed into law.

The new legislation, formally titled ‘the Parental Rights in Education Act,’ prohibits teachers from instructing on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to third grade, affecting children aged five to nine. It states that “classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity by school personnel or third parties may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

The bill has been widely panned across the United States, from LGBTQ+ activists to Democrats and the White House. It even landed DeSantis in hot water with Disney, a major economic force in Florida.

“We will make sure parents can send their kids to school for an education, not indoctrination,” DeSantis said before signing the bill. “Most parents oppose giving their children such materials.” As you can see, Republicans claim the bill is about supporting parents’ rights to influence what their children are taught. For over a century, American conservatives have used this exact argument to oppose progressive school legislation. It was used to stop teaching evolution in the 1920s, to justify racial segregation in the 1950s, and now it manifests in frantic smear campaigns against critical race theory or ‘gender ideology.’ Conservatives believe they can win midterm elections, and maybe even the presidency, by whipping up a frenzy about ‘parents’ rights,’ writes historian Jill Lapore in The New Yorker.

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill may be cynical electioneering (DeSantis may run in the 2024 election, and all the media attention won’t hurt his chances).

But the harm it poses to young LGBTQ+ people is real. Due to its unclear wording, it may also be used to target LGBTQ+ teachers who are out at work (who decides what is ‘age-appropriate’? Is it inappropriate to mention one’s own family casually?) More broadly, the bill marginalises LGBTQ+ identities, which has detrimental effects on mental health. Last month, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, said the legislation could increase the already high rate of LGBTQ+ youth suicide.

“Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve to be affirmed and accepted just as they are,” Joe Biden tweeted yesterday. To feel safe and welcomed in class. Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve affirmation and acceptance. My administration will continue to fight for every student and family in Florida and across the country.”

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