Opinion: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will lead to more parental rights at extreme expense of students

Maya Huffman, Opinion Writer

The Parental Rights in Education Bill, more commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has been signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Across the country, more bills are being introduced that mirror the original bill in Florida.

In Ohio, House Republicans have recently introduced a bill that uses much of the same language as that in the Florida bill. At face value, this bill is seemingly positive; who wouldn’t want to have more rights in their child’s education?

However, embedded into the legislation is a clause that requires schools and teachers to “prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.”

Given the title of the bill, I have been asking myself lately “what does prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity have to do with parental rights in education?” I continue to draw a blank.

What I do know, though, is that it’s a way for homophobic and transphobic legislators to have their control over what they deem the “gay agenda.” The purpose of this legislation is incredibly unreasonable. Some Florida senators, according to an article from The Hill said “the bill is not only discriminatory, but also a solution in search of a problem.” If it’s not broken, why are we trying to fix it? Also, what exactly are we trying to fix?

The bill claims to champion “parental rights in education,” but what about a student’s right to feel safe and respected in the classroom? At what point do we put aside parental rights in order to protect students’ mental well-being and autonomy? The more legislators prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, the more stigma we are creating around being part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Moreover, prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity will not stop students from discovering these topics on their own. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not things that you one day wake up and decide. Rather, they are essential parts of our personal identities that we are born with and that we continue to discover over the course of our lives. Allowing this discovery to take place in the classroom is essential to students’ overall well-being.

Ostracizing and condemning LGBTQIA+ individuals will only exacerbate the prevalence of mental illness among these individuals. Mental illness already plagues the LGBTQIA+ community at much higher rates than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that “LGBTQ+ teens are six times more likely to experience depression than heterosexual counterparts.” The Human Rights Campaign also reports that “LGBTQ young people are more than twice as likely to feel suicidal, and over four times as likely to attempt suicide, compared to heterosexual youth.”

School should be a safe place where students can get the help that they need. For many younger students, school may be their only way to access the support they need. The CDC notes “a positive school environment is associated with less depression, fewer suicidal feelings, lower substance use, and fewer unexcused school absences among LGBT students.”

The thought of this bill terrifies me to no end. All students deserve to feel safe and respected at school. For many students, school may be the only “safe space” that they have for discovering and asking questions about these parts of their identities. We must protect students’ rights to mental well-being and their sense of belonging in this world.

If you have a true desire to positively impact your child’s education, reach out to your local Congressperson and explain to them the impending doom that may be brought upon school districts by these “Don’t Say Gay Bills”.

In this case, knowledge is power. Hold your state Senators and Representatives accountable and make them realize the nonsensical nature of these bills. If state legislators wanted to make a positive change to public education, there are other less discriminatory ways to do so.

Maya Huffman is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected]