Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made Florida ground zero in the latest manufactured culture war targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This development follows the passage of the controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” that went into effect on July 1.
The law bans “instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students per state standards.” A provision in the law also requires school staff members to alert parents about “critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” which many advocates believe will result in the involuntary outing of students.
In Lee County, FL, the recent adoption of an LGBTQ Guide is amplifying advocates' fears.
According to its authors, The LGBTQ Guide is “intended to create guidelines for teachers and administrators to help students who need it and to outline state laws for employees.” A provision in the LGBTQ Guide will notify parents — by form — if a student who is "open about their gender identity," is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. The guidelines further instruct: “Upon notification or determination of a student who is open about their gender identity, parents of the affected students will be notified of reasonable accommodation options available.”
For Black queer Floridians with school-age children, the new Don’t Say Gay law and anti-LGBTQ policies being implemented across the state have had a chilling effect.
Queer author Leslie Anne Frye-Thomas is raising two children with her wife Carthy Frye-Thomas, a communications director in Hollywood, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. While their son is still too young to understand why their family dynamic is subjected to political attacks, Leslie Anne tells The Reckoning that their daughter is aware of how anti-LGBTQ laws in Florida impact her family and classmates who identify as LGBTQ+.
“The Don't Say Gay law doesn't allow teachers to talk about it and it doesn't allow kids to talk about it. So that means she can't say what she did with her parents over the weekend,” Leslie Anne said. “And it's not a super diverse school, so she's one of the only Black kids. So she's gonna have it twice as hard because she sticks out.”
Leslie Anne says that she and Carthy are concerned about the message the law is sending to their daughter about who she is as a child of queer parents.
“It makes it feel like there's something that she should be ashamed of and hiding,” Leslie Anne said. “The fact that you're telling a kid she can't talk about it makes it feel like her family's got something weird, that she's got something weird.”
While conservatives are working to silence discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida and across the country, Carthy points out that their daughter’s peers have the language for and are already discussing these topics.
“Kids are gonna be kids, and they're gonna talk about it,” Carthy said. “They're talking about, ‘Oh, I'm pansexual.’ And so she comes home and asks, what is that?”
“Or she explains it,” Leslie Anne interjects.
“These are 9, 10, and 11-year-olds in fourth grade and they already have the vocabulary. I don't care what rule or law you put in place, kids are gonna be kids,” Carthy said. “Are they gonna be penalized because they're having a conversation at recess? I don't know how much they're gonna try to regulate, but it's definitely scary.”
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