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The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” Threat Goes Beyond Florida

An amendment to the Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” takes a dangerous turn as the GOP takes the issue nationwide.

Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

Late last week, a Republican state legislator added a potentially deadly measure to a bill that’s already designed to bring harm to LGBTQ children.

In an amendment filed to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” Rep. Joe Harding, the sponsor of the legislation, seeks to require schools to inform parents of their child’s sexual orientation. And not only will schools have to inform parents, they have to do so within six weeks of learning the student is any sexual orientation other than straight. Technically, the bill already required schools to inform families of their child’s sexuality, but it left an option for exemption based if there’s suspicion the information would lead to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

However, as reported, based on the new amendment, that safety precaution has been removed even if abuse, abandonment, or neglect occurs as a result of the disclosure — making an already bigoted and exploitative bill into something even more monstrous.

Harding’s public statements on the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” belie its bigoted intentions because no matter how much the man professes that kids will not be barred from talking about homosexuality, bisexuality, and queerness in totality, if schools are not allowed to teach about anyone being gay, and if being anything besides heterosexual requires a disclosure to parents, what do we expect students to think about nonstraight people? What feelings besides fear and shame could this instill in schoolchildren? Won’t the refusal to discuss gay folks as anything besides full human not make them targets in the classroom and elsewhere?

A recent report from The Trevor Project, a organization focused on LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention, found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ people or issues in school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the last year.

“We know that what happens in schools impacts mental health and suicide risk,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, explained to Changing America. “We know that youth learning about themselves, being able to see themselves reflected in their curriculum, being able to speak openly about who they are to their classmates and their teachers reduces suicide risk significantly.”

And we know that queer and trans youth often find themselves without housing stability when rejected by their family members.

The pandemic has only exacerbated such a crisis as noted last year by the more than 80 percent of LGBTQ youth that faulted the pandemic for worsening their housing situations in The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

“Nothing repairs the damage that is typically done by being rejected by your family, your community, the culture at large,” Bill Torres, director of drop-in support services at the Ali Forney Center in New York, one of the largest LGBTQ youth homeless shelters in the country, said in a recent interview to NBC News.

On Tuesday, Harding withdrew the amendment but it’s still a bigoted bill and will face a full Florida House vote this week, with 14 amendments to vote in or veto, before it advances to the next step of the legislative process.

Unfortunately, like all GOP bills of this sort, this is not the action of one or even a few extreme Republican officials, but a coordinated effort from a party that strives to make villains out of the most vulnerable.

Changing America has explored the 15 similar bills that have been introduced in state legislatures seeking to restrict LGBTQ topics and what teachers can and cannot say about sexuality and gender identity.

Say, the House bill in Tennessee seeking to ban textbook and instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender lifestyles” in K-12 schools. Likewise, in Indiana, Republican legislators there are working to bar educators from discussing in any context “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” without permission from parents. There are multiple measures that have been introduced in Oklahoma; in two bills, SB 1142 and SB 1654, it would prohibit librarians and teachers from distributing materials on or outright discussing “any form of non-procreative sex,” gender identity and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues.”

And for those teachers who dare to teach students about anything besides missionary sex not being done for the sake of procreation (presumably to make more white Christians based on the political party’s longstanding preferences), GOP members in states like Kansas are trying to amend the state’s obscenity law to make using classroom materials depicting “homosexuality” a Class B misdemeanor.

There are also numerous bills targeting trans kids by banning them from participating in sports like those signed by South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem earlier this month.

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton declared healthcare provided to trans kids as abuse, and like that proposed amendment to the Don’t Say Gay Bill, calls for trans kids to be identified.

This is all after it’s been made widely known that hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community surged under President Trump.

It all comes as the number of U.S. adults who identify as LGBTQ is now at a record 7.1% — an increase steered by young people. The 7.1% is double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first measured identity, and is up over last year’s poll that showed 5.6% of adults identify as LGBTQ. In a 2017 poll, that number was 4.5%. It coincides with a report of heightened LGBT representation in American television. Per a study by LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, nearly 12% of regular characters are LGBTQ, up 2.8% from last year.

With increased visibility “comes backlash,” said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force,” said in an interview with USA Today. “But we are not going back and will fight using the best tool we have: our lives and our stories.”

As a queer storyteller myself, I understand the continued importance of sharing our stories, but we also need more support from the political party not trying to actively erase LGBTQ people of all ages.

I still don’t understand why President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Democratic leadership writ large have yet to make more declarative statements about the madness that is the Republican campaign against “critical race theory.” They cowered to bigoted lies about legal theories not even being taught in schools instead of defending critical race theory and any reflections on racism in America.

It’s not too late to defend Black writers, intellectuals, and the history of Black people in America but it requires concern from the party the same way it’s not too late to stand up for LGBTQ youth across America. If anything, these issues should be tied together. After all, it’s very apparent what kind of people Republicans only consider valuable. Why not challenge them more forcefully on their strains of prejudice rather than continuing to let them fester with the public?

It is cruel to act as if gay people are not worthy of being discussed in the classroom under the presumption our identities make us indecent.

It is evil to compel teachers to out students to their parents with no regard to their safety?

It is cowardly to sit idly as this effort leaps from state to state.

Republicans have long been ghouls, but the level of depravity it takes to introduce legislation like this is the kind that actually makes me wish I believed in hell. They see a changing America and want to curtail it before those LGBTQ identification numbers are officially in the double digits. They want people like me to crawl back into the closet.

The community will push back, but where is the support as these people literally try to kill us?

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Michael Arceneaux

Michael Arceneaux

New York Times bestselling author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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