[Opinion] Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill will raise LGBTQ+ suicide rates


Katelyn Laverde

The ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ hurts students in the LGBTQ community.

Brynn Schwartz, Associate Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, Jan. 20, the Florida House Education and Employment committee passed HB 1557 that banned discussions of sexuality and gender identity that are not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The bill passed mostly based on party lines, with Democrats rejecting the bill and Republicans voting in favor of it.

The bill, formally called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, was introduced by Republican state representative Joe Harding. The bill is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. An identical bill was introduced by Republican Senator Dennis Baxley on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

“The bill is about defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent,” Harding said.

Democratic state representative Anna Eskamani called the bill an attempt to intertwine politics into people’s lives in an interview with CNN.

“This is an attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people from Florida schools and in a state that is so diverse as ours, we’ve made so many gains in embracing every type of family and this is a step backward purely for a politically motivated agenda,” Eskamani said.

Parents would have the right to sue their children’s schools if a teacher discusses LGBTQ people or even “encourages classroom discussion” of LGBTQ people or issues relating to the LGBTQ community. The wording of the bill is broad, but the bill would allow parents to also sue teachers and school administrators if they do not “out” a student.

However, it does not change that the bill’s purpose is not to defend “being a parent.” It is yet another attempt to erase LGBTQ people from history, from the classroom and society in general. The bill promotes the erasure of LGBTQ people, who are already frequently erased in government, healthcare, academics, history, books, television and in the media. Healthcare ignores the experiences of transgender patients and has heavy restrictions on queer men who wish to donate blood.

“Make no mistake, LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members and friends,” Equality Florida press secretary Brandon Wolf said. “We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

Erasing members of the LGBTQ community from classrooms will only further crush a community that is grappling with anti-trans bills, rising violence against trans people, the looming threat of the rescission of Obergefell v. Hodges and the hardships the pandemic has caused for the community.

“This will kill kids, [Ron DeSantis],” educator and LGBTQ advocate Chasten Buttigieg tweeted. “You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey [by the Trevor Project], 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”

The data from the Trevor Project national survey Buttigieg referenced is staggering. More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth considered attempting suicide. 72 percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, while 62 percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder in the past two weeks. More than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and more than 2 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder.

However, in another research report by the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth “who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school” had a 23% lower chance of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year.

“In Florida, what kind of state are you building where you’re essentially pushing kids back into the closet?” Buttigieg said. “You’re saying ‘We can’t talk about you. We can’t even talk about your family.’ As a kid who grew up for eighteen years being told ‘You don’t belong’ [and] ‘Something about you is wrong,’ sometimes you take that trauma to heart. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids in this country who do the worst because we tell them ‘Something about you is twisted, you don’t belong here.’”

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has faced intense backlash from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

“Every single one of you have a sexual orientation,” Lakey Love of the Florida Coalition for Transgender Liberation said. “Every single one of you have a gender identity. To prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity is to exclude what it is to be human.”

Love’s point echoes the statements of many on the committee, questioning the broad language of the bill. The bill’s language uses “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” rather than “LGBTQ.” “Straight” is a sexual orientation. “Cis [wo]man” is a gender identity. Essentially, the bill would ban discussion of straight and cisgender people too. It would force teachers to call parents and say that the child is straight or cisgender. In being as broad as it is, allocishet, the term for allosexual, cisgender and heterosexual, people essentially banned allocishet people in their attempt to be homophobic and transphobic.

However, the broad language does not change that the bill truly harms LGBTQ students, as well as those who are exploring their identity and LGBTQ families. Buttigieg also argued it harms families like his. Buttigieg and his husband, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, recently adopted newborn twins.

“If kids come into the class on Monday morning and they’re all talking about their weekends and hypothetically, a kid like mine says, ‘I had the best weekend with my dads. We went to the zoo and got ice cream,’” Chasten Buttigieg said. “Is the teacher supposed to say ‘Hey, hey, hey. We don’t talk about things like that in this classroom?’ And not only what does that do to kids like mine, but what does that do to a kid in the classroom who might be starting to realize that they’re different?”

Not only does the bill send a message to LGBTQ youth that they are inherently wrong and that their identity is “taboo” and something that should be avoided, it tells children of LGBTQ families that their family is wrong and not something that should be talked about. Children would not be able to speak of their two moms or nonbinary parent.

There are no “parental rights” at play here. It’s homophobia and transphobia. Parents do not have some magical right to know their child’s sexuality or gender identity without the child’s consent, nor do they have a magical right to push LGBTQ kids, families, history and culture out of schools.

Queer people aren’t “inappropriate.” Being LGBTQ is normal and natural, and LGBTQ people can be traced back through time. The rhetoric that LGBTQ people are “inappropriate” is deadly. Blood will be on Gov. DeSantis and those who vote for the “Don’t Say Gay” bill if it passes.

LGBTQ students who are feeling scared, alone or depressed can get help by talking or texting with counselors at the Trevor Project.