By Mekhi Abbott
Howard University News Service
The Parental Rights in Education Bill moved a step closer to barring school discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in what’s known as the “don’t say gay bill.”
The Florida Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in favor of the bill, which must still be considered by additional House and Senate committees. If Florida legislators decide to pass the bill, it would go to the governor and could go into effect on July 1.
State Rep. Joe Harding introduced the bill in the House, and State Sen. Dennis Baxley sponsored the Senate version, both with support from Gov. Ron DeSantis, among others.
Additionally, the bill authorizes parents who oppose conversations about sexual orientation and other topics related to the LGBTQ+ community to sue the school system.
People in the LGBTQ+ community and allies are advocating for these bills to be vetoed, as they fear that legislation like this will in essence ban all lessons about the history of LGBTQ+ issues and that stories, discussions and overall education about the issues the community face will be omitted from not only curriculum, but school entirely. They say these actions could seriously hurt youth who both identify as LGBTQ+ and those who may be questioning their sexuality.
Chasten Buttigieg, partner of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, activist and LGBTQ+ supporter, spoke out on Twitter about DeSantis and state legislature supporting a bill that will negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community.
The tweet read: “This will kill kids, @RonDeSantisFL. You are purposely making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey (@TrevorProject), 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”
This will kill kids, @RonDeSantisFL. You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey (@TrevorProject), 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers? https://t.co/VtfFLPlsn3
— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chasten) January 20, 2022
Monét Bowen, senior student-athlete at Howard University and Jacksonville native, said the bill would compromise communication between students and teachers as well as awareness of LGBTQ+ history.
“That is very much on brand for Florida, but it is also very problematic because it is very prejudiced and backwards,” Bowen said. “It is pivotal for a lot of LGBTQ youth to be able to talk about and live their truths.
“Additionally, it is important that everyone learns LGBTQ+ history, as it is just as important to learn Black history. We barely get a month for that. Regardless, it goes to show that we are still moving backwards legally in the state of Florida, in the year 2022.”
Kaylah Clark, a Howard alumna who teaches in Miami Dade County said, “It is disgusting that a bill like that could even make it as far as it did.”
“Growing up in Florida, especially South Florida, having friends in the LGBTQ+ community and knowing the difficulties they went through, it truly saddens me that a child may be struggling internally, because they don’t feel comfortable expressing their sexual orientation or even comfortable enough to ask questions they may have about it,” Clark said.
“Conversations and education about things like sexual orientation and such are already taboo and honestly pretty toxic, and they have only become even more difficult for all students.”
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of the national LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, passionately pleaded that this bill will “erase LGBTQ+ history and culture from lesson plans” and said that an action of this magnitude sends a disturbing message to both young people and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Heather Wilkie, a member of the Zebra Coalition, stated that the country needs to learn how to create a healthy and inviting space when it comes to learning.
“When you have laws like this, that directly attacks our kids for who they are, it prevents them from learning … and being able to be healthy,” Wilkie added.
Harding and DeSantis are catching a lot of the heat for supporting such bills, especially after Harding claimed that this will “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing and control of their children.”
Mekhi Abbott is a public affairs reporter for HUNewsService.com.