Washington, D.C. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law will officially go into effect in Florida on Friday, targeting LGBTQ+ youth and educators across the state by preventing them from having and providing a safe, inclusive classroom. It will block teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids.
The “Stop WOKE Act” will also go into effect in Florida on Friday, another dangerous bill limiting protected speech in workplaces with more than fifteen employees and classrooms by censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination. It also changes Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination.
Joni Madison, Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, released the following statement:
“School policy should focus on education, not discrimination. Governor DeSantis’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law is a shameful attack on students already struggling with the weight of discrimination. It is a slapdash, mean-spirited, impossible-to-comply-with law designed to make LGBTQ+ students feel shame and isolation at school, a place where every child deserves a chance to learn and succeed. The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns these discriminatory policies taking effect on Friday and will continue fighting for Floridians who deserve to exist freely, proudly, and to have their stories shared.
“Parents, teachers, doctors, business and faith leaders, and countless others in communities across the country are increasingly standing up and uniting to speak out against these vicious efforts to marginalize LGBTQ+ students. Shameful efforts to replicate DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law in other states are being pursued by extremist legislators trying to rile up a small but radical base, who foolishly believe peddling hate against children will win them support at the ballot box come November. We have a message for them: The country is tired of watching you use the lives of our children for personal political power. And come November, we’ll make sure you hear that message from all of us, loud and clear.”
The HRC Foundation provides training and resources to support LGBTQ+ young people in schools and the child welfare system via its Welcoming Schools and All Children, All Families program – both of which are still operating in Florida. Welcoming Schools provides educators with the tools and training to embrace teachable moments, interrupt bias-based bullying, support transgender and non-binary students, and be prepared to answer important questions about LGBTQ+ and gender topics with students and families. The program offers LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive professional development training, lesson plans, booklists and resources specifically designed for educators and youth-serving professionals. All Children – All Families promotes LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies. Participants gain access to comprehensive resources, including an online self-assessment tool, expert webinars on LGBTQ+ topics, group-based technical assistance and more.
HRC Spotlight Brief | June 30, 2022
Students & Teachers Silenced, Books Banned, Speech Censored
As DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” Law Goes Into Effect, Extremist Politicians in Other States Follow His Lead, Attacking LGBTQ+ Youth, Seeking to Turn Back the Clock on Equality
All students – no matter their background, sexual orientation, or gender identity – deserve to feel safe and welcomed in school.
But on Friday, July 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law officially takes effect in Florida, preventing teachers from providing safe and inclusive classrooms for all. The law blocks educators from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids. DeSantis’s vicious, harmful attacks on the lives of young LGBTQ+ people are being imitated by extremist politicians in states across the country, but more and more people are speaking out and standing up against them with each passing day. In poll after poll, Americans have voiced their strong opposition to these efforts. While self-serving politicians try to make life harder for LGBTQ+ youth, they’ve set off a growing backlash against their extreme agendas.
Below is a brief snapshot of the issue, including important context to better understand the current state of play, the impact of the policy, and the public’s response.
STATE OF PLAY
So far 25 harmful anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been signed into law, including the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill (HB 1557), which goes into effect tomorrow in Florida, HB 322 in Alabama, and HB 1012 in South Dakota.
More than 35 discriminatory education bills have been introduced in 2022 – including the “Stop WOKE Act” (HB 7) in Florida, which goes into effect tomorrow.
So far in 2022, 7 bills carrying curriculum censorship and/or anti-LGTBQ+ education provisions have passed in Alabama, Florida (2 bills), Georgia (3 bills), and South Dakota. Other curriculum censorship bills are under consideration in Louisiana, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, among other states.
WHAT THESE BILLS DO
These bills effectively aim to prevent the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues or people in educational settings.
This means teachers would be prevented from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all students.
The Florida law blocks teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids. It also undermines existing protections for LGBTQ+ students.
The Alabama law bans any acknowledgement of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten through fifth grade.
South Dakota’s law prohibits state education officials from compelling either students or teachers to agree with "divisive concepts" — meaning, acknowledgment of privileges and inequities in our society.
Studies clearly demonstrate the harms for LGBTQ+ youth mental health when they are denied affirming and protective school environments:
Youth living in states with enumerated antibullying laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity report less homophobic victimization and harassment than do students who attend schools in states without these protections.
LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ supporting clubs and sexual orientation & gender identity resources often report feeling safer and are less likely to report depressive symptom, substance use, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in comparison with students in schools lacking such resources.
86% of LGBTQ+ youth report they have been targets of bullying, harassment, or assault at school.
Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ youth contribute to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement.
A recent Trevor Project survey showed that a startling 85% of transgender or gender non-binary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by the current wave of legislative attacks.
AMERICANS OVERWHELMINGLY OPPOSE CENSORSHIP AND BOOK BANS
87% of Americans do not think books should be banned for discussing race or slavery. 85% do not think books should be banned for political ideas you disagree with. 83% do not think books should be banned for criticizing US history. [CBS poll, 2/15-18]
Seventy-one percent of likely voters – including 66 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans – believe that local school boards should not have the authority to ban books from school curriculums. [Data for Progress poll, 2/11-13]
By a 60-point margin, Americans oppose banning books in public schools. When described as “a growing push to remove certain books from schools across the country, including the graphic novel Maus about the Holocaust, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and 1984,” more than three in four Americans oppose the banning of books in public schools (16 percent support – 76 percent oppose). Opposition is strong across partisanship, with opposition from almost four in five Republicans (78 percent) and about three in four Democrats and Independents (74 and 76 percent, respectively). [Navigator poll, 2/17-22]
74% support adding more books in English classes by authors who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. [PIE Network poll, 11/21]
Based on National Parents Union’s national polling and meetings with parents all over the country, Keri Rodrigues, co-founder and president of the organization, says restricting how teachers can talk about race or gender "is really at the bottom of the list" of parental priorities. [National Parents Union]
STUDENTS, TEACHERS, PARENTS & LIBRARIANS ARE STANDING UP AND SPEAKING OUT
“This bill is condemning the LGBTQ+ community to death. If you're telling a child that is gay or whatever sexuality, that they're going to hell, or that they need to be quiet and not share with the class, that's just going to cause so much inner trauma and conflict and if they don't have a support system to turn to ... what do you think is going to happen with this child? They're either going to pretend to be someone that they're not or they're going to go through depression and anxiety and even possible self-harm and suicide attempts.” CJ Walden, a high school senior in Boca Raton, Florida [CNN, Apr. 1, 2022]
“I ignored [my sexuality] for a really long time. And I think that as a young girl, if a book showed me that this is a life that could be lived, I could have had a lot more peace and coming to terms with bisexuality,” high school senior Gabrielle Izu, at James E. Taylor High School in the Katy Independent School District, Texas [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]
“When I first decided, like, oh, I don’t really feel like a girl at all, or I don’t always feel like a girl. I felt sort of like I didn't know how to feel about that. But when I realized that that was completely normal, having media that showed that was really helpful.” Saffy Cousins, 6th grader in the Orange County Public School system, Florida [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]
“I really feel like, by them banning this book, it’s just spreading the message that it’s not OK to be gay, especially in school. For me, it’s not necessarily about the book. It’s more about the message that banning the book spread. I just feel like they need to stop spreading the message that everybody has to be the same and being gay isn’t OK. ... If I picked one thing to come out of this, it’s to have more of an accepting school.” Alek Burgess, eighth grade student at Bayfield Middle School, Colorado [Durango Herald, Oct. 8, 2021]
“I think that [placing an age restriction] creates a harmful environment in the school surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. It makes it seem as though gender expression and sexuality are issues reserved for ‘adults,’ while there are many students at the school who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.” Junior Kate Johnson, Lake Forest High School, Illinois [The Forest Scout, Feb. 25, 2022]
“I'm straight. I've never gone through what my LGBTQ+ students have, but I know that they're at a higher risk of bullying, they are higher risk for suicide, and I can never imagine what they're going through. The only thing that I can do is just try to be someone on this campus who they know that I'm going to support them and be in their corner.” Meghan Mayer, a middle school reading teacher in Sarasota, Florida [CNN, Apr. 1, 2022]
Jeanne Nettles, who teaches 7th and 8th grade in St. Johns County, Florida, said the bill could make some of her students — such as those with two moms or two dads — feel like they need to hide parts of themselves at school. “Are they not allowed to talk about their home life? … What are you trying to tell them by saying ‘you can’t talk about it’?” she said in an interview after the school day had ended.” [The 19th, Feb. 9, 2022]
Austin Johnson, who teaches sociology at Kenyon College and studies LGBTQ+ health, said that, if he had been able to learn about what being transgender meant in high school — especially from a teacher — that would have alleviated the despair that enveloped him; despair that he couldn’t understand or find words for on his own. “I think it would have totally changed my life,” he said. “I think that I would have made different choices in terms of self care. … I didn’t know myself, so it was hard to care for myself.” [The 19th, Feb. 9, 2022]
For Clinton McCracken, who has taught art for 21 years at Howard Middle School Academy of Arts in Orlando, this law feels like a hateful, personal attack. McCracken points to a 2021 survey from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, which found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. "I can tell you as someone who grew up as a gay boy, how real that statistic is," he says, "and how dangerous it is that these Republican legislators are playing with the safety of our vulnerable youth. … This is a created culture war from [Gov. DeSantis] so that he can achieve his political ambitions. That's all this is. So yeah, I'm not teaching kids how to be gay in my classroom, but I'll tell you what I am doing. I am trying with all my power to teach kids to be OK with who they are." [NPR, Mar. 30, 2022]
“They are creating policies restricting the freedoms for students to be themselves biding with families that insist their heterosexual or cisgender children should feel comfortable in the school environment, essentially by never interacting with beliefs or people who are at odds with their own. … We do not debate the existence of groups of people or their right to exist because they exist whether we believe they do," she added. "We should not be prioritizing one student's comfort over another student's very existence.” Mae Christiansen, sociology teacher at H.G. Hill Middle School in Tennessee [The Tennessean, April 14, 2021]
Dr. Robert John Hovel Jr., AP Psychology Educator at Lyman High School, said, “Stifling students from thinking critically and expressing themselves is the exact opposite of our goals as high school public educators. We are always encouraging our students to engage and stay informed on current issues. These students educated themselves about the ‘Don’t Say LGBTQ’ bill and came together by the thousands to demand a stop to it, with these protests happening not just at Lyman, but across many Seminole County Public Schools. The courage and resilience demonstrated by our students demands applause, not discouragement. Being a visible, open, and out educator for my students is of the utmost importance for reasons such as this, to provide them support and encouragement to stand for what is right. These students did just that on the night of May 10, 2022 at the Seminole County School Board meeting and I could not be more proud of every single one of them.” [Source: Equality Florida]
“I think that the LGBTQ community has consistently tried to make the life of LGBTQ people who come after them better. What I hope will continue to happen now that this bill has become a law, is that people will rise up, people will speak up, families like mine will step further into the light. We know what it's like to have to fight for this. And this family that we have, we're incredibly proud of it and nobody is going to silence us. Nobody is going to make us hide." Janelle Perez, a wife and mother living in Miami, Florida [ABC News, Mar. 30, 2022].
“It is suicide prevention, in my view. You know, a lot of LGBTQ+ kids aren’t comfortable coming out to their parents, they’re scared. And so having a book like this in the school library is giving them a lifeline.” Jen Cousins, mother of nonbinary 6th grader in Orange County Public School system, Florida [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]
“It is our job as parents to make sure these books do not disappear,” Stephana Ferrell, Orange County, Florida, mother [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]
“We haven’t seen or heard of challenges like these probably in the last 40 years. It’s definitely become politicized.” Shirley Robinson, executive director of the 5,000-member Texas Library Association [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]
“Banning a book is, in my opinion, never justified. If a library or district has a strong collection development policy and a certified professional librarian in charge of that, banning should never be necessary." San Antonio, Texas, middle school librarian Carrie Damon [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]
“Freedom to read is a right that must be protected in our schools and public libraries, and we must not give in to the vocal few that want to speak for the many,” Austin, Texas, Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]
“That one family may choose not to read something does not determine whether or not it's appropriate for another family.” Jaime Prothro, Wichita, Kansas, director of libraries [The Kansas City Beacon, Nov. 30, 2021]
“Not only do librarians face the challenge of ensuring that all students are able to see a reflection of themselves in the books they read, but they are also charged with the responsibility of helping explore worlds outside of their own and develop empathy for others.” Davina Sauthoff, the Executive Director of the Utah Education Library Media Association [Fox13 Salt Lake City, Dec. 14, 2021]
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