From Where We Are

How Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill impacts LGBTQ+ youth

The Parental Rights in Education bill was passed by the Florida state Senate this week. The passing of the bill, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has sparked controversy and protest.

Florida’s in the news again. What’s new?

***

On Tuesday morning, the Florida Senate passed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Under this legislation, kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers will be banned from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in their classrooms.

Officially called the Parental Rights in Education Bill, the legislation is now headed to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis. While the Republican lawmaker has expressed his support for the bill, he hasn’t explicitly stated whether or not he will sign it.

But not everyone is undecided. Earlier this week, juniors, Will Larkins and Maddi Zornek, of Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida, organized a school-wide walkout in protest of the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

MADDI ZORNEK: We had like over 400 plus people come to the walkout, and we were just showing that the Florida legislators do not represent the majority of people. We don’t support that bill. the majority of people at our school, the majority of people in Florida do not support that bill. And we just wanted to show the LGBTQ community, especially that there are people behind you. You are loved, you’re valued. And this is not what the majority of people believe.

Like many activists, Zornek is worried that the bill’s vague language will be used to ban all conversations related to queer identity for these younger students.

ZORNEK: It’s left very vague for a reason that way. Anyone can sue the school and get teachers in trouble for speaking about queer history. We’re speaking about queer significance.

Professor John Blosnich, the director of the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity at USC’s Peck School of Social Work, shares similar concerns.

JOHN BLOSNICH: I mean, it’s sending a message that can’t even talk about this in the classroom. So that’s going to further add to any sort of, you know, anxiety or feelings of shame, I guess managed to enhance stigma against people.

Blosnich says that witnessing these attacks on the LGBTQ community can be detrimental to queer youth; but there are ways in which we can push back against this type of legislation, which we have also seen in states like Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

BLOSNICH: I mean, I think what people can do is, you know, one thing is just, I’m not calling them, you know, calling them out for the discrimination and the stigma they’re trying to create under this mask of protecting children.

Zornek agrees.

ZORNEK: The best thing to do right now is just keep amplifying your voices. Be loud. There’s petitions to tell Governor DeSantis to veto this bill. And I mean, he’s up for reelection in November.

This goes to show, every vote counts.