On Jan. 11, a bill was introduced to the Florida House of Representatives that aims to prohibit primary schools from “encouraging” discussion of sexual and gender identity in the classroom.
CS/HB 1557, also known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, has been touted by its sponsors as a measure that would give parents more control in deciding what is best for their children. In reality, CS/HB 1557 would not only create an unsafe and erasure-based environment for children who are discovering their identity or who identify as LGBTQ+, it promotes the idea that discussion and consideration of gender and sexual identity is inherently wrong.
When the primarily Republican-supported bill was brought to the House by Rep. Joe Harding, debates had already been circling legislation since 2019 when it was proposed that educators be obligated to report when a student discusses their gender or sexual identity to the child’s parent—a thought that completely ignores a child’s right to privacy.
Now, as Florida state lawmakers argue that the current education system has “forced” conversation about identity on students, the privacy—and ultimately the safety—of LGBTQ+ youth is once again being threatened.
According to a 2021 national survey of over 35,000 individuals aged 13-24, conducted by The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention in LQBTQ+ youth, only 1 in 3 reported their home to be affirming of their identity.
Furthermore, 42% reported serious consideration of attempting suicide within the past year. LGBTQ+ youth who reported having access to gender or sexuality affirming spaces, on the other hand, had significantly lower rates of suicide ideation and attempts.
No, these statistics don’t represent students aged 5-8 as are addressed in CS/HB 1557, but they indicate a greater issue that has and will continue to affect LGBTQ+ youth—a lack of safe spaces leading to detrimental mental health issues.
To put it simply, this bill will kill kids.
Since its first reading, CS/HB 1557 was passed by the House’s Education and Employment Committee by a vote of 15-5 on Jan. 20. It now lies with the House Judiciary Committee, where Harding has said it is likely to pass as well.
As one line in the bill reads, “a school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
But to say that discussion of identity is age or developmentally inappropriate is to say that creating a future of fearful, uneducated, and hateful people is.
No discussion means no awareness of resources to reach out to.
No discussion means a belief that having an identity outside of the “norm” is to be kept as a guilty secret.
No discussion means allowing other students to be raised believing in the identity bias they’re fed from their families, their media, and their politicians.
No discussion means fear, hopelessness, and unnecessary deaths.
In an age where groups like the ones supporting this bill are also commending the use of “freedom of speech” in hateful and derogatory circumstances against anyone with opposing views, it is hypocritical to challenge a right to freedom of speech when it comes to discussing gender and sexual identity—whether in a classroom or not.
And yes, that person is someone’s child.
But they’re also a human being.