Last Tuesday, Florida’s Republican legislature passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
In what can only be described as a culture war, the radical Republican-driven measure in Florida has drawn intense opposition from LGBTQ+ advocates, students, Democrats, the White House, and the entertainment industry.
“What we really need to be doing is teaching tolerance, caring, loving, anti-discrimination, anti-bigotry. Tell me how this bill does that. Tell me how this bill is helping us create kind, giving, tolerate adults. I don’t see it. I see it as exactly the opposite,” said state senator Tina Polsky, a Democrat, to The Guardian.
The bill states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
As defended by Republican lawmakers, the bill would not ban spontaneous discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools but instead seeks to prevent districts from integrating these topics into the official curriculum.
But what are its consequences?
The most serious aspect of this legislative proposal is not only its direct assault on identity recognition and its marginalization but that it is couched in remarkably vague language, which would allow for taking advantage of loopholes in the law or taking more aggressive discriminatory action.
“A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” the bill says.
The text, however, fails to define or explain what language around those topics would be considered “age-appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate.”
As the Tampa Bay Times described, although the bill and its supporters stipulate that the provision explicitly applies to elementary levels, which include grades through third grade, opponents worry that the ambiguous language could mean the measures end up applying to older students as well.
Similarly, LGBTQ rights groups and advocates have claimed that the legislation is posing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, told The Times that no “developmentally inappropriate” curriculum relating to sexual orientation or gender identity is taught in elementary classrooms.
While the bill is expected to become law, the LGBTQ+ community will not stand idly by.
“When you come to our schools to instill hate, bigotry, and fear, we will stand up, speak up, and fight back,” Maxx Fenning, founder of the LGBTQ youth advocacy organization PRISM, said at a protest last Monday in front of the Florida State Capitol. “Our passion knows no distance, and we will never be silenced!”