By: Austin Agostino

2021 was a record year for anti-LGBTQIA+ bills, with 26 enacted in 10 states. Just over a month into 2022, LGBTQIA+ groups are opposing at least 200 bills. In the wake of divisive politics, a revolution of Nixon and Reagan-era ideologies have found a place in the 21st century. The current Florida Bill, HB 1557/ SB 1834, replicates many bills passed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s restricting LGBTQIA+ issues covered in schools.

The actual language of HB 1157, fittingly named the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” is posed as a Parental Rights in Education bill. Textually, the discriminatory provision is under the sub-heading, ‘student welfare.’ The Bill prohibits district school boards from discouraging parental involvement in the student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being. The Bill prohibits encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation. The Bill is dangerously vague in scope, but allows for a parent to seek declaratory judgment if a parent finds the district is violating provisions of law.

Those who defend the Bill argue it will not silence LGBTQIA+ topics in student conversation although the Bill would ban the school curriculum from covering such topics. Rep. Joe Harding of Florida states that general history on such topics would be banned, but not, for example, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub massacre that killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida.

Opponents state that Harding’s explanations contradict the effect of the Bill. Current Florida teachers and pastors have spoken on the damaging impact such a Bill will have on LGBTQIA+ youth. Don Festge, a teacher, reported to a local Florida paper on just how negative it is to ban kids from being themselves. Rev. Darrell Watkins, an executive pastor, offers insight on how he feels religion is misused to hurt people. Rev. Watkins further claims this is yet another attempt of cismale, white, Christian objectives taking form in legislation hiding behind a veil of virtue. An example of the FL legislature hiding behind a mask of virtue in attempting to enact targeted and damaging legislation, is the now redacted amendment requiring teachers to tell parents within six weeks if the student comes out as anything other than straight. Proponents argued this is in the same nature of preserving family involvement in the child’s education. Opponents emphasize the risk of unsupportive home environments and reducing the necessary safety aspect schools should provide.

The Bill has the effect of further marginalizing classmates and fellow friends. A critical analysis of the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” reveals it to be highly problematic and contradictory. How is a child of same-sex parents to feel welcomed if such topic is prohibited? Kara Gross of the Florida Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, states that if the Bill is passed, it would “effectively silence students from speaking about their LGBT family members, friends, neighbors and icons.” The lasting impacts of past legislation in Utah similar to the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” have impacted kids for years. Due to litigation challenging the Utah statute that banned advocacy of homosexuality, various other states dropped similar laws. Most concerningly, the law is based in an arguably elitist and classist view that each student has a stable and welcoming home for these topics that are presumably only allowed to be addressed at home. School is a haven for many children in America in a multitude of ways. The law requires the district to ensure mental and emotional well-being. Mental and emotional problems caused by a kid attempting to figure out not just the world, but oneself, in an environment that bans such topics, is an impossible situation. The obligation imposed to uphold the student welfare necessitates accessibility of all topics that may cause unwellness. Allowing the beautiful history of LGBTQIA+ individuals and movements would substantially reduce the stigma, challenges, and marginalization faced. Further, to imply that only the Pulse Nightclub massacre and like events are permitted topics, associates the LGBTQIA+ community to tragedy- and not the normalcy, resiliency, and perseverance deserved. All that kids deserve is a chance to be heard. The Bill directly prohibits that very necessity. Concerns elevate as the Bill has passed two committees and the House. The Legislative session ends March 12th in FL. The Bill may be tracked here. Support the ACLU and other justice organizations and speak up.

Austin graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Pre-Law. Austin is currently starting research on utilizing current infrastructure to extend renewable energy into distribution and reliance. Austin is a current 2L and plans to follow his interests in environmental justice and sustainability.