Opinion: Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill is cruel and dangerous

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As leaders of two LGBTQ organizations, we have been amazed at the progress we have made over the past decade. But it’s also clear that the increased visibility of our community has caused a backlash. There are currently over 100 anti-LGBTQ bills – the majority of which target transgender and non-binary youth – passing through state legislatures across the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
One of the most extreme examples is a bill in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It states that school districts “may not encourage discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the elementary grades or in a manner that is not appropriate for the age or development of students.” The language, which is vague and could apply to K-12 classrooms across Florida, could be used to prohibit open discussions about LGBTQ people and issues.
If passed, it would effectively erase entire chapters of history, literature and critical health information from schools – and silence LGBTQ students and those with LGBTQ parents or family members. . It’s just one of many divisive and dehumanizing bills in Florida that use LGBTQ youth as political pawns to limit conversations about gender and sexual identity.
Let’s be clear: the Don’t Say Gay Bill will do real and lasting harm. All students should learn about the significant contributions of the LGBTQ community to United States history and culture. Landmark events, ranging from the Stonewall riots to Supreme Court rulings in cases such as Oberfell v. Hodges and Bostock v. County of Claytonshould be included in any comprehensive lesson plan on modern history and the civil rights movements.

LGBTQ students deserve to see their own history and experiences reflected in their education, just like their peers. Learning about LGBTQ civil rights heroes like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Bayard Rustin can inspire LGBTQ students, make them proud of who they are, and help them envision a better future.

Research from the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ students who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in the classroom at school were 23% less likely attempted suicide in the past year. Conversely, when LGBTQ topics are taboo, this stigma is often internalized and can negatively impact a student’s mental health and self-esteem.
Learning about the LGBTQ community can also foster peer acceptance and contribute to a positive school climate, which is still much needed. Tragically, a majority of LGBTQ youth in middle school and high school said they had been bullied in person or electronically in the past year — and those who did were three times more likely to attempt suicide.
And since only 1 in 3 young LGBTQ people find their home to be LGBTQ, it is all the more important to ensure that schools – the place where young people spend a significant part of their waking hours – are as welcoming as possible.
At a time when 42% of LGBTQ youth, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth, have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to a national survey conducted by The Trevor Project, fostering an affirming school environment is more critical than ever. That’s why lawmakers should expand support systems for LGBTQ students and encourage teachers to create safe and inclusive learning environments, without fueling stigma and shame.

Scaring LGBTQ students from discussing their identity, community or family at school is as cruel as it is dangerous.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Helpor by texting START to 678678.
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