By: Julia Weiss

In recent years, many states have begun introducing legislation restricting LGBTQIA+ information and educational materials from being allowed in preschools and elementary schools. This is yet another discriminatory measure in schools against people in the LGBTQIA+ community, following rules in many schools already restricting participation in sports and access to bathrooms reflecting a student’s gender identity. Notably, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, restrains any educational materials or conversations on certain topics from being administered by school officials to students in kindergarten through third grade. Gender topics and information on sexuality are utterly broad categories for teachers to be prohibited from talking about with young, curious students.

Counties across Florida have reportedly told teachers not to wear rainbow clothing and to remove photographs with their same sex spouses. Schools have been required to alert parents when their child is in a class with another child who is “open about their gender identity.” Additionally, officials have begun to pull children’s books from school shelves if they are on LGBTQIA+ topics or where they cover racial topics, following Florida legislation curbing the critical race theory. Four other states have enacted similar legislation to Florida’s. Seventeen states have similarly sought to restrict school books that discuss racial and LGBTQIA+ inclusive topics.

However, books like I am Jazz, Little Miss Crazy Hair, and My Two Moms and Me promote the understanding, acceptance, and education of people within the depicted marginalized communities. By prohibiting this educational material in schools for children at a young age, the legislation impedes the overall understanding of these topics within society. It thus impedes the inclusion of people who do not fit within heteronormativity.

Recently, Congressman Doug LaMalfa, along with 32 other Republicans in the United States Congress, have introduced the Stop Sexualization of Children Act of 2022. This federal bill, if passed and enacted, would prohibit the use of federal funds “to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10, and for other purposes.”

This federally enacted bill completely mischaracterizes sexual education by branding what is not publicly seen as being encompassed within sexual education in schools as the “sexualization of children.” Sex-ed in the United States is widely recognized as covering safe sex practices. Of course a comprehensive sexual education covers gender identity and related topics, but many states, including Florida, favor a curriculum promoting abstinence as opposed to teaching comprehensive sex education. Therefore, by the Federal bill and its supporters branding gender identity and sexual orientation information with a negative connotation as the “sexualization of children” and thereby legislatively regulating it, the bill is promoting a mischaracterization of what sex-ed encompasses. Furthermore, by mischaracterizing this information, it is promoting regulation and discrimination against people who are LGBTQIA+. The bill is premised on the idea that parents or guardians have the “right and responsibility to determine where, if, when, and how their children are exposed to material of a sexual nature.”

This reasoning wholly ignores the realities of children learning about sex and sexuality through informal means, such as through media, magazines, and billboards. In fact, 81% of parents with children under the age of 6 report that their children watch videos or play video games daily. Children are increasingly exposed to sexuality and natural behaviors from a young age. They begin understanding gender identity by age 2 or 3. They are increasingly curious about sexuality as toddlers and adolescents.

This is why early childhood schools teach children about their bodies through practices such as correctly naming body parts and reading children’s books which cover such topics. Educating children about sex and sexuality at early ages on their own level of understanding helps them to understand their own bodies, and the sexuality of others in a healthy way. By preventing the information about sexuality in children’s books, the introduced bill would cut off such information being conveyed within the childrens’ own learning environment.

Furthermore, lower-income and racially diverse students face even more barriers as a consequence of the proposed bill. Lower-income students face additional barriers to quality education because of their socioeconomic status. Lower-income parents are more likely to have inflexible work hours, and therefore fewer opportunities to devote time to educate their children within the home environment. Moreover, racial minorities, immigrants, and low-income families in America generally have less resources, let alone time, to educate their children outside of the classroom. For example, more than half of the black children in America live in single-household families. A single household family means one bread-winner to provide for everyone, leaving that single parent with numerous burdens of responsibility.

For lower income and racially diverse students, education is already a barrier. By implementing further restrictions on what teachers are allowed to safely explain in class, the bill introduced in Congress would further impede those students’ simple ability to learn and become educated on topics surrounding them in everyday life.

Additionally, students with difficult home lives may view school as a haven. Those students often look to teachers and school officials to aid in their education of real-life topics, such as sexuality, because they are not receiving it from their parents. This bill would prohibit many of those learning opportunities for the students who are not receiving additional education at home.

The introduced federal bill, as well as the numerous state bills disallowing student education in the classroom, ignores the many realities of the imperative role that teachers play in educating students about real-life topics such as sexuality. The bill further ignores the realities of the many disadvantaged students in American schools who already face a myriad of barriers to their education before they even step into the classroom. Florida’s “Don’t say Gay” bill and the federally introduced “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” work to impede rather than aid in student education and early development.

Julia graduated from the University at Albany in New York with a B.A. in English, and double minors in political science and education. She is currently a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her legal interests broadly encompass business law. Her personal interests include cooking, baking, and hiking.