Florida bill would ban teachers from talking about LGBT+ people in schools

People wave rainbow coloured banners during a Pride parade at the Miami Beach Pride Festival

Republican lawmakers passed a bill that would ban discussions of gender identity and sexuality in Florida classrooms.

House Bill (HB 1557), which is formally known as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, would prevent schools from encouraging classroom discussion about LGBT+ people in “primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.

The legislation, which LGBT+ advocates refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would also allow parents to bring legal action against schools if Florida teachers discuss gender identity and sexuality or even encourage classroom discussion about LGBT+ people.

The bill passed in the House education and employment committee on Thursday (20 January) largely along party lines, Florida Politics reported. It now advances to the House floor for a vote.

Republican representative Joe Harding, who introduced the bill, argued the legislation is about “defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent”.

However, LGBT+ advocates have slammed the bill for trying to ‘erase’ queer people and effectively “policing” the identities of young people in Florida.

Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, called out Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Twitter for making the state a “harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive”.

“This [bill] will kill kids, [DeSantis],” Buttigieg wrote. “You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 national survey on LGBT+ youth mental health found 42 per cent of LGBT+ youth “seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year”.

The survey of over 35,000 queer youths across the US also revealed that 94 per cent of young people reported that recent politics had a negative impact on their mental health.

A separate poll by the Trevor Project found that LGBT+ youth who were able to learn about queer issues and LGBT+ people in classrooms had 23 per cent “lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt” in the past year.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, warned the Florida bill could have dire consequences for LGBT+ youth in the state.

“This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” Ares said.

They added: “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida and survivor of the Orlando Pulse shooting, told the Los Angeles Blade that the proposed legislation would “erase discussion of LGBTQ people in schools in Florida”.

He added the bill is just another “component of an agenda designed to police” LGBT+ people in “our classrooms, doctor’s offices and workplaces”.

“Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbours, family members and friends,” Wolf said. “We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.