By Rachel Ulrey
Just be yourself—a common maxim, advice most kids are given growing up, whether when scared about making new friends or wondering how to act a certain way in elementary school. However, in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis argued encouraging children in kindergarten that the phrase, “they can be whatever they want to be” is “inappropriate” for young, developing minds (Diaz). Restricting educators speech and henceforth, children’s learning, the “Parental Rights in Education” (commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay”) bill was created with the intention of denying teachers and other instructors the right to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten to third grade (Diaz).
Eradicating any possibility of young children learning about the LGBTQ+ community through lessons on different sexualities and genders, LGBTQ+ history vanishes and students may feel frightened and unwelcomed at school. Stemming from a place of homophobia rather than protection, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill requires school officials to gain permission from parents before a student may receive mental health services, including if the students identifies as LGBTQ+—a topic which legally may be disclosed to parents despite the child’s comfort with their parents knowing their gender or sexuality (Diaz). Additionally, should a younger child wish to openly discuss their identity, instructors or counselors are forbidden to converse about LGBTQ+ topics, effectively denying any support system in place for students if they are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the Mayo Clinic, toddlers as young as 18 months old can differentiate between stereotypical genders—such as girls and boys—and children as young as three years old begin to recognize their own gender identity (“Steps for”). Between the ages of three and five, children typically explore their gender identity, shaping their developmental and mental growth as an individual (Poulopoulos). However, children living in environments where actions and items attributed to stereotypical gender norms are reinforced may, “learn to behave in ways that bring them the most reward,” failing to recognize or express their true gender identity (“Steps for”). Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill perpetuates the idea that LGBTQ+ kids must abstain from gender/sexuality exploration or act in a way which conforms to heteronormative or cis-gendered social norms—actions which may have enduring consequences on children’s developmental and psychological health.
As of 2020, the Trevor Project cited research noting children who identify as LGBTQ+, “are four times more likely” to attempt to commit suicide compared to their peers of similar ages (“Facts About”). With Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, LGBTQ+ kids may face discrimination or feel unsafe at school, increasing their risk for suicide. According to Natasha L. Poulopoulos with Global Health Now, children in the LGBTQ+ community—particularly those in Florida—likely reside in “non-affirming environments,” and this bill will only uphold the stigma surrounding different sexual/gender identities, which could imply to LGBTQ+ kids they need to feel ashamed (Poulopoulos). Causing detrimental internal feelings, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill may have long lasting harm on the mental health kids who identify as LGBTQ+.
Diaz, Jaclyn. “Florida’s Governor Signs Controversial Law Opponents Dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’.” NPR, NPR, 28 Mar. 2022, http://www.npr.org/2022/03/28/1089221657/dont-say-gay-florida-desantis.
“Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide.” The Trevor Project, 21 Jan. 2022, http://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/.
Populous, Natasha L. “The Deleterious Impact of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill.” Global Health NOW, 15 Feb. 2022, globalhealthnow.org/2022-02/deleterious-impact-floridas-dont-say-gay-bill.“Steps for Supporting Your Child’s Gender Identity.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Feb. 2022, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/children-and-gender-identity/art-20266811#:~:text=Most children typically develop the,gender by age 3 years.