“Don’t Say Gay” Bill sparks outrage among students and staff


Photo by Ginger Speer

Ms. Fuhrman teaches her students about the people who helped pave the way for the LGBTQ+ community in the LGBTQ+ studies class and creates a welcoming environment for those who may not have found the support they need.

Ginger Speer, senior Features writer

Imagine that your own school system is telling you that your identity is inappropriate subject matter and that discussions of it are prohibited or severely limited. Thanks to recent legislation, this is becoming a reality for LGBTQ+ students in Florida public schools.

The “Parental Rights in Education” bill, infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has ignited national controversy over its policy regarding LGBTQ+ education. Signed on March 28, 2022, it will take effect beginning July 1, 2022. Advocates and allies worry about the devastating impact it will have on the rights of LGBTQ+ students and staff.

Cited from the signed edition of the bill released March 8, 2022 on the Florida Senate website, “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.”

Freshman Manuela Martins Figueiredo notices the double standard present. “It’s like, you can talk about the same things, but in a straight version, but you can’t talk about it in a gay version, which doesn’t really make sense,” she said. Although defendants say that this applies to discussion of heterosexuality as well as other identities, the societal establishment of heterosexuality and being cisgender as a default effectively creates a space where LGBTQ+ identities are linked to the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that being cisgender and/or heterosexual is not.

Many supporters of the bill have been outspoken about their reasons for promoting it, such as Florida Press Secretary Christina Pushaw, who said, “Talking about adult topics with young children is a tactic of groomers, and as I said, not everyone who opposes the bill is a groomer — but they apparently don’t see a problem with adults instructing very young children about sexual topics,” in an email correspondence with Florida Pheonix.

The discussions of identity as a propagator of grooming has procured backlash over the sexualization of LGBTQ+ individuals. “I think that kind of simplifies being LGBT to being sexual when it’s not all sexual,” sophomore Dylan Weng said. “There’s romance, and, like, kids know what romance is. Why should they not know there’s another kind?”

According to a 2020 press release of findings from a study by the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, “LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault.” Similar studies show that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be victims of grooming and assault rather than perpetrators.

“I strongly disagree with the governor classifying discussion about one’s identity as being about sex because it’s not about sex. It’s about an identity and these identities have been affirmed over and over and over in our government at the Supreme Court level all the way down to the local levels,” LGBTQ+ Studies teacher and ESOL Resource teacher Elizabeth Fuhrman said. “We should be supportive of LGBTQ+ identities. They are nothing to be ashamed of-the American Psychological Association declassified them as mental illnesses way back in the 70s, so this new bill sounds like they are very uneducated about what it means to be LGBTQ.”

The LGBTQ+ Studies class is available in the first semester only. Besides having the opportunity to explore who they are in an open, accepting environment, students learn about the many strong advocates for LGBTQ+ people and intersectionality throughout history. “The class has really opened up the school and destigmatized different identities not just [limited to] LGBTQ but asexual and other identities,” Ms. Fuhrman said.

Legislation censoring dialogue in the classroom can create tense shifts in the balance between parental input and freedom of speech for teachers. This bill in particular also addresses the parental inclusion in health services offered to students.

 “I think it is a harbinger of other bills that attack education and attack the ability to do our jobs and it is distressing, especially as a parent and a teacher because my role as a parent is different than my role as a teacher, and they have to be separate,” English teacher Carolyn Greenspon said. “The idea that parents who do not necessarily have a background in education, child psychology, curriculum, are going to have a huge impact on what is being able to be said in a classroom just spells really bad things happening.”

Although an amendment to the bill that would have required teachers to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents has been removed, concerns remain over such notification requirements as outlined that may discourage confidentiality and hinder the ability for students to reach out to their teachers.

“As a gay man that went to a private Catholic school, one of the things that I love the most about being a teacher here, and especially public school, is just seeing how different it is. People speak about their orientation; they have clubs about it and it’s a very open environment. When I went to school, you couldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t talk about it, and I was bullied for it,” Spanish teacher Jason Colchao said. “But I do remember it was my advisor teacher that overheard me coming out to a friend, and they spoke to me about it, and they made me feel better about it. And so, what I’m hearing is that a teacher could be sued now for trying to do that and be there for their student, which is a really scary thing to be told. Like, “Oh, you will be financially reprimanded if you try and have your students’ best interest.”

A major concern of LGBTQ+ advocates is the effect this bill could present to mental health, particularly that of students. The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization formed to help LGBTQ+ youth, states that “LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.”

“I know I have a big impact on my students, because at home they do not have any family members or friends or access to information about LGBTQ+ people. When students get to know me and they hear me talk about famous people who are gay, or my brother, who’s bisexual, they learn that it’s okay and it’s normal, and that this topic touches all of us, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of or ridiculed or mocked,” Ms. Fuhrman said.

The situation has become a battle of public opinion, the legislation a result of conservative opinions brought into law, and the critical response composed in part by younger generations on social media. 

Despite widespread retaliation, the bill was signed into law by Governor DeSantis. In the weeks leading up to this, schools across the nation participated in many forms of protest. Attention has been garnered even within major corporations, such as Disney, which has been condemned for their inaction and monetary support of the political forces in Florida creating the legislation, evoking walkouts among its employees.

At Richard Montgomery High School (RM), the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) club recently organized and held a walkout to protest the bill, highlighted in this photo of the day. The club meets in room 265 on Thursdays at lunch and serves to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies where they can discuss relevant topics and issues.

“​​I would absolutely say everyone should be writing to Florida’s political entities. People should be making TikToks about it. They should be posting on social media, but I don’t think there needs to be any school disruption here,” Sr. Colchao said. For information on contacting Governor DeSantis, go to https://www.flgov.com/contact-governor/.

“The biggest danger is that teachers, especially, you know, queer teachers, or just teachers that are not actively homophobic, can now be prosecuted for talking about a completely normal part of life and a very large sector of the population. But it also really ostracizes young trans kids and young queer kids. By making it a completely taboo topic, it’s not fair and it’s gonna hurt,” sophomore and Vice President of MOCO Pride Cedar Dwyer said. 

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is not the first instance of legislation to limit or prevent discussion of LGBTQ+ identities in the classroom, nor will it be the last. Though so long as students, staff, and other individuals educate themselves on current issues and continue to speak out, the fight for equality will not be extinguished.