The Parental Rights in Education bill, which many people call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has harmful implications for students in Florida schools as it will inevitably lead to confusion, neglect and further prejudice against people in the LBGTQIA community.
The bill was passed on March 8 by the Florida Senate, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill on March 28. One of the key passages of the bill, which earned the bill its nickname, states that instruction on gender and sexuality would be constrained in all grades and completely prohibited in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
This section of the bill is unclear and subject to various interpretations. Teachers could be held liable for answering students’ questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, assigning books featuring LBGTQIA characters or historical figures and facilitating classroom discussions on the topic. So if students do not have someone at home they can talk to, they may turn to the Internet for answers, which is far more dangerous and potentially damaging than discussing these matters in the safety of a classroom.
Senior Sheridan Smith, who is a member of the LGBTQIA community, said they do not see the point of the bill because most sex education curricula for young students are not currently fostering inclusive conversations and the bill will likely make these discussions even more exclusive.
“Usually, conversations regarding sexual health and sex ed don’t really involve ‘gay’ aspects. You don’t learn about dental dams and the only time that we learned about AIDS was a brief intro of the AIDS crisis,” Smith said.
As Smith points out, the problem this bill is trying to solve is unclear. The bill seems like an excuse to exercise prejudices against gay people and encourage similar prejudices in children.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Stephanie Mallinas, who has researched how moral beliefs influence social judgment, said that one of the key findings of prejudice research is that the key to reducing prejudice is through intergroup contact.
“If you’re not having these conversations, then you’re not even taking a step towards having contact with people who belong to those groups,” Mallinas said.
Mallinas also stated that people are less likely to have negative attitudes toward people or ideas if they are exposed to them from an early age. She said cognitive fluency, which is when our brains can process information easily, occurs when we are familiar with a topic. The less familiar an individual is with a topic, the more likely they are to feel negatively about it.
“If children start hearing about sexual orientation at a young age, that would probably increase their congnitive fluency of that topic. And so it would be something that they would process more easily and feel more positively about later on,” Mallinas said.
Additionally, the bill contains other problematic passages, including allowing parents to opt their children out of counseling and health services (lines 26-29) and to sue schools for violating provisions of the vaguely-written bill (lines 46-49).
Prohibiting a child from seeking support at school is especially harmful because a parent may choose to do so simply because they do not want anyone to affirm or encourage their child who is questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Ironically, this is when a child would need the most support possible. Preventing a child from seeking this support will not make them less gay; instead, it will likely encourage confusion, repressed anger and mental health issues.
Smith said, “I feel like it would be not only healthier, but more beneficial to just introduce gender in all aspects to children because we already do it. . .That doesn’t mean they’re gonna grow up gay. It just means boys can wear dresses and rock them with confidence compared to toxic masculinity.”
If we ever want a future where all people feel safe, respected and accepted in their relationships, we need to stand up for some of the most vulnerable people in our society – the children. By indoctrinating students in their own classrooms, supporters of this bill are perpetuating a hateful narrative that has already existed for far too long.
*This article reflects the opinion of The Current's Editorial Board, which is comprised of Kelli Martin, Carter Weinhofer, Zach Franco, Chloe Carter, Katya Tjahaja, Patrick Heinzen, Kelli Alford and Briana Hashim