Florida’s Controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Explained
Education Policy Brief #53 | By: Lynn Waldsmith | June 27, 2022
Header photo taken from: National Center for Lesbian Rights
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It’s not easy having curly hair in Florida. That’s the message the first openly gay class president of Pine View School in Osprey, Florida delivered last month in his commencement address, who used his curly hair as a euphemism for his sexual orientation.
Zander Moricz, 18, the youngest public plaintiff in the “Don’t Say Gay” lawsuit, had been warned by his principal that the administration would cut off his microphone if he mentioned his activism. Moricz never used the word “gay”, but his coded message nonetheless came across loud and clear.
“There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View, and they won’t have one,” Moricz said in his speech. “Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Parental Rights in Education” bill into law in the spring, and dozens of states have introduced similar pieces of legislation.
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said when he signed the measure.
The “Don’t Say Gay” law bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and requires that it be “age-appropriate” after that. Parents can sue school districts over alleged violations. But sexual orientation and gender identity is not taught in grades K-3, and opponents worry about the impact of the law on LGBTQ students since the “age-appropriate” description is so vague that teachers and staff may be fearful to discuss or even mention issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, thus making LGBTQ students feel invisible. After all, even “boy” and “girl” are gender identities.
Florida’s new law takes effect July 1, but it is being legally challenged on free speech grounds.
Bills similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law are pending in state legislatures across the country. Here is a sampling of what several states are considering:
- Alabama – a bill prohibiting early classroom instruction on sexual and gender identity.
- Arizona – a bill proposing to change the state’s sex-ed curriculum to focus on biological sex and “not gender identities.”
- Iowa – a bill requiring that parents opt in, in writing, to any instruction “relating to gender identity.”
- Louisiana – a bill limiting discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in some grades and prohibiting it all together in others. A South Carolina bill is similar.
- Missouri – a bill banning “gender or sexual diversity training” in public schools. Indiana and Kentucky have bills that are similar.
- Oklahoma – a bill banning books from school libraries that focus on “the study of sex, sexual lifestyles, or sexual activity.”
- Ohio – a bill containing similar language used in Florida’s law.
- Tennessee – a bill banning books and instructional materials “that promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender issues or lifestyle.”
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According to Joe Saunders, political director for Equality Florida, Gov. DeSantis is relying on LGBTQ stereotypes by using the new law to imply that gay people look to sexualize children.
Critics of the “Don’t Say Gay” law say DeSantis, who is eyeing a possible presidential run in 2024, is using the law and other cultural wars for political purposes.
But the greatest criticism of the law is that it will be harmful to students. LGBTQ youth are already at greater risk of mental health issues, self-harm and suicide.
A recent report from the LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, The Trevor Project, found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ+ people or issues in school were 23 percent less likely to attempt suicide in the last year.
While sexual orientation and gender identity are not taught in grades K-3 in Florida, such topics potentially may arise, as in talk of a child’s home life or family makeup. Therefore, same-sex parents say they are being erased by the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
As for older students, Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, says school is a place where LGBTQ students need to feel accepted, yet he worries that they will be far less likely to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.
“We are seeing entire chapters of textbooks being erased,” Ames told the newsletter Changing America. “Do you not talk in a civics class about Pete Buttigieg? Do you not talk in a history class about Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson? These are fundamental moments, not just in LGBTQ history, but in American history, that are being written out of existence.”
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State policies that are affirming and exclusionary of LGBTQ+ students: