- The Republican-backed “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28.
- The new law would restrict primary school educators from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom.
- Critics of HB 1557 have said it could reverse progress and cause emotional harm to LGBTQ youth and create confusion for children around sexual and gender identities that can’t be disccused at school.
On March 28, “The Parental Rights in Education Bill,” known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The new law restricts discussion and instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation in K–3 classrooms.
House Bill 1557 first garnered support from the Republican governor after it swept through the House in February. On March 8, all but two Republicans and no Democrats voted for the bill, which passed 22 to 17.
The Senate bill sponsor, Republican Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley, had said the bill addresses the recent “trend” of children coming out at school.
“There’s something wrong with how we’re emphasizing this, and all of a sudden overnight, they’re a celebrity when they felt like they were nobody,” Baxley said as he addressed the Senate floor.
DeSantis has criticized the media for “misinterpreting” aspects of the bill, which implies that instruction and discussion around gender identity and sexuality are restricted in primary K–3 classrooms only.
But critics have argued the bill’s ambiguous language around what is “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” could extend beyond the 3rd grade and apply to all K–12 classrooms.
HB 1557: Section 3, ‘Student Welfare’
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
All proposed amendments that attempted to soften the language in the bill to avoid targeting the LGBTQ community were rejected on the Senate floor after 4 hours of questions and debate.
“We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” DeSantis said at a news conference in March.
The Parental Rights in Education Bill prohibits instruction and discussion of any topic pertaining to gender identity and sexual orientation.
Instead, the new law serves as a directive for primary school students to talk with their parents about gender and sexuality, rather than their teachers and peers.
Supporters of HB 1557 have said that it gives parents more control over their child’s education. Opponents are outraged.
For instance, a day before the bill passed through the Senate, more than 500 Florida students staged a walkout at Winter Park High School in Orange County.
The Biden administration has called the bill “hateful.” Following pressure to take a stance on the bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced on March 9 that Disney opposes it.
As 15 other states consider similar bills, critics have said it will reverse progress on acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
“Don’t Say Gay” could also create problems and confusion for children unable to understand sexual identity and gender fluidity since they’re unable to talk about it at school.
Abbie Goldberg, PhD, a Clark University psychology professor who focuses on gender diversity and sexual orientation, told Psych Central that talking about sexual orientation and gender identity with young children helps reduce stigma around sexual and gender diversity.
“Talking about these things doesn’t confuse children — it allows them a space to discuss things they’re already wondering about and curious about,” Goldberg said.
“It also normalizes the diversity in family constellations that already exists — in the classroom, among teachers and their families, and in their communities.”
“Don’t Say Gay” is the latest in a wave of legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, which could have dire consequences for kids’ mental health.
Goldberg warned of the tremendous harm that can result when a child exhibits gender fluidity or identifies as a different gender than they were assigned at birth and are told not to talk about it at school.
“Telling a child not to talk about their gender sends the message that something is wrong with them, which creates the kind of shame, feelings of low self-worth, and hopelessness that place trans youth at risk for so many negative mental health outcomes,” Goldberg said.
Bethany Cook, PsyD, a child psychologist and member of the LGBTQ community in Chicago, told Psych Central that the bill insinuates that a person has a choice over their sexuality or sexual identity, which impacts their self-worth.
According to Cook, when children don’t feel seen or validated for who they are, they may experience:
- alcohol and substance misuse
- risky sexual behaviors
- self-harm behaviors
- suicidal ideation and attempt
There is considerable scientific evidence to show that affirming LGBTQ identities supports mental health.
Research from 2021 shows that acceptance of gender identities may improve mental health outcomes among transgender and nonbinary youth.
Other research findings from 2021 have shown that LGBTQ affirming schools may help reduce depression and suicidal ideation.
Despite the evidence, HB 1557 discourages LGBTQ acceptance at school. To promote acceptance at home, Cook said that parents can try:
- offering their home as a safe place for their children and their friends and allies to feel safe, validated, and understood
- investing in books that support sexuality, gender identity, and queer lifestyles and leave them around the house
- standing up for LGBTQ rights among family members, friends, and other parents
- joining or starting their own PFLAG branch or organizing a campaign to support LGBTQ students
As Floridians continue to protest “Don’t Say Gay,” it’s more important than ever for parents to practice acceptance of LGBTQ identities at home.
If your child is questioning their sexuality or gender identity, you can support them by helping them gain access to unbiased information that helps them affirm who they truly are.
By prioritizing the mental health of LGBTQ youth at home, they may feel more prepared to navigate stigma and bullying in social settings and at school. You might also try connecting your child with a mental health professional for additional guidance.
If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. Stopbullying.gov offers resources on bullying prevention and what to do if you witness someone being bullied in person or online.