“Don’t Say Gay” Bill Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Youth

On March 8, 2022, Florida bill HB 1557 “Parental Rights in Education” passed the Florida Senate, sending it to Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk. UnidosUS has been following the bill’s creation and trajectory and finds it alarming for our LGBTQ+ siblings in Florida. UnidosUS strongly opposes this bill.

Florida bill HB 1557 “Parental Rights in Education”—nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by criticsaims to bar teachers from talking about LGBTQ topics that parents deem “age appropriate” (which representatives themselves supporting the bill were unable to define) and enables parents to take legal action against teachers who discuss those topics in their classrooms. Governor DeSantis is on the record as saying that he believes that discussions about gender and sexuality as “entirely inappropriate” for the classroom, and outside the scope of what children should be taught in school.  

During a press conference with other Florida officials, DeSantis said:  

In terms of the schools, we’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school: “don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff”—they won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening—that’s entirely inappropriate. Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write, science, history we need more civics, understanding the U.S. constitution and what makes our country unique—all this basic stuff. 

DeSantis also described schools as “injecting the concept” of being LGBT and teaching “divisive” concepts—completely ignoring the role that LGBT people have played both in our country’s history and civic life.  

Critics of the bill have pointed out that it doesn’t address parent engagement and contend that it seeks to censor the teaching any LGBTQ+ history and culture in the classroom. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill also makes it more challenging for young children to request services and resources related to their well-being, or to report harassment or bullying related to their perceived gender identity. In fact, the bill contains a provision that would make it so that schools must report to parents if their children request any resources on LGBTQ+ identity. While the bill text may seem harmless at first glance, its implementation and impact are dangerous. While an amendment mandating “outing” students did not make it to the final version of the bill, the provision that “a school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring,” creates a chilling effect that will discourage students from requesting information about resources and services they may need.  

Eight states across the country are considering legislation restricting how teachers can engage in discussions of LGBTQ topics. UnidosUS is concerned legislation like this could have an especially harmful impact on youth who identify as both Latinx and LGBTQ. According to an UnidosUS fact sheet published in November 2021, 69% of LGBTQ+ Latinx children in Florida schools experience some form of verbal harassment, with 24% reporting physical harassment, and 11% reporting physical assault. In the 2019-2020 school year, Florida had the third largest Hispanic student population in the entire country, with Miami-Dade County reporting that 72% of their students are Hispanic. 

This is especially alarming as according to a 2020 report from the CDC, the third-leading cause of death among youth 15-19 is suicide. Additionally, according to a report from the University of Chicago, Black or multiracial LGBTQ+ youth reported a higher rate of homelessness (16%) compared to that of their white peers. Family rejection of a child’s sexual orientation or identity is the leading factor for LGBTQ+ youth’s disproportionately higher rates of homelessness. 

UnidosUS sent a letter to Florida Senate leadership, strongly opposing SB 1557. The letter was shared with Hispanic-identifying state senators to raise awareness on the intersection of Latinx and LGBTQ+ identities of Florida students and to express that UnidosUS unequivocally stands with LGBTQ students and their families. 

On March 3, 2022, more than 100 high school students from Leon County schools marched to the Capitol to protest the bill. Several #DSGWalkout events were organized by students across Florida. Groups like Equality Florida are working to try and get members of the public to urge Governor DeSantis to veto the bill.  

Further, recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a memo directing the Texas Department of Children and Family Services to investigate families whose transgender children have undergone sex change procedures on charges of child abuse. It also directs mandated reporters, like teachers, doctors, or therapists, to report children who are suspected of gender transitioning to the state. These investigations have already begun happening, and other states, such as Alabama and Idaho, are considering even more punitive measures for providers who provide gender-affirming care. 

Kendall Evans, Policy Analyst with UnidosUS’s Education Policy Project, explained why this memo is so harmful: 

Governor Abbott is using mandatory reporting laws, which exist to protect children from maltreatment, to promote a homophobic and transphobic agenda. Undoubtedly, if Texas implements this law, it will harm the 14,000 transgender children living in the state. The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQIA2S+ youth, reports that in 2021 more than 50% of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth have seriously considered death by suicide—a share even higher than their cisgender LGB counterparts (42%). However, when Latinx LGBTQ+ students attend schools with supportive staff, they have higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression. If students fear being their authentic selves in school to protect their parents and the teachers that support them, there will be irreparable harm and adverse effects on their education and mental health. 

It’s important to note that transgender children need to be over the age of 18 to begin hormone therapy or undergo gender-affirming surgery, which in effect means that the governor’s memo is taking aim at transgender children who are doing nothing more than trying to figure out who they are. 

Raisa Sequeira, Florida Policy Analyst at UnidosUS, spoke to Progress Report about the need for LGBTQ+ Latinx youth to feel a sense of belonging: 

In my last year of working in higher education, half a dozen students visited my office, in different instances, to ask me to be an advisor for a new LGBTQ+ club they wanted to form. I was honored to support. They entrusted me with their stories of feeling excluded, isolated, or unseen. As bell hooks wisely said, “Healing is an act of communion.” And these young adults, some who were still teenagers, were seeking community and safety that they did not find at home. Having a sense of community is integral to student wellbeing and for queer, gender-expansive, and trans Latinx youth—it is conducive to their survival. HB 1557, given the moniker ‘Don’t Say Gay bill,’ dismantles the community structures within schools that help keep LGBTQ+ students alive.