Overview:

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis reportedly 'aims to score political points with extremists' as he positions himself to be the GOP presidential candidate. He is promoting a 'parents’ rights' agenda that includes parents' right to sue over discussion of homosexuality in schools.

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Earlier this month, a Florida House committee approved two bills intended to prevent teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues or people.

Equality Florida reported that what is being called “Don’t say gay” legislation will:

Stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom.

It added:

This is just another way for Governor DeSantis to score political points with extremists as he positions himself to be the GOP presidential candidate. But for our community, this bill will have devastating real-world consequences – especially for LGBTQ youth who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide. Lawmakers should be providing more support for these students instead of trying to force LGBTQ people back into the closet by policing identity or stopping kids from talking about their same-sex parents.

Writing for Slate last week, Christina Cauterucci explained the move is one of several “don’t say gay” bills that have been introduced in several state legislatures in recent years. This report elaborates under the headline “The Republican Plot to Ban LGBTQ History in Public Schools.”

The Florida bill, if passed, could easily be construed as a directive to educators to erase all mention of marginalized people’s lives from the classroom.

Its implication – that the mere existence of LGBTQ people is an inappropriate topic for children – draws on a long history of homophobic legislation that portrays queer identities as hypersexualized and perverted. But by prohibiting discussion of any sexual orientation or gender identity, including presumably, the straight and cisgender ones, the legislation could evade being struck down by anti-discrimination laws.

The Florida bill, if passed, could easily be construed as a directive to educators to erase all mention of marginalized people’s lives from the classroom.

The Florida Family Policy Council is encouraging support of Representative Joe Harding and Senator Dennis Baxley’s HB 1557/SB 1834 bills which, according to Slate, “are apparently being fast-tracked to a vote in the House as part of DeSantis’ “parents’ rights” agenda.

The first, HB 1557, says:

Parental Rights in Education: Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with provisions of law for notifying student’s parent of specified information; requires procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; provides requirements for such procedures, school districts, & personnel; requires DOE to review & update specified materials.

The second, SB 1834, says:

Parental Rights in Education; Requiring district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying a student’s parent of specified information; requiring such procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner; prohibiting a school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that require school district personnel to withhold from a parent specified information or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information; prohibiting a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a specified manner, etc. (My emphasis.)

Under the headline “‘This will kill kids’: Push for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in Florida schools” News.com.au quoted Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of America’s LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, as saying:

This would erase LGBTQ+ history and culture from lesson plans and it sends a chilling message to LGBTQ+ young people and communities. These mandates are harmful and risk carelessly outing LGBTQ+ young people to families who do not affirm their children’s identities.

Member of Central Florida LGBTQ advocacy group Zebra Coalition, Heather Wilkie, agreed.

She told ABC News that erasing LGBTQ presence from schools could imply to students that their gender identity or sexual orientation is something to be hidden or ashamed of.

We have to create a learning environment where they feel safe and healthy, or it’s not an effective learning environment. When you have laws like this, that directly attack our kids for who they are, it prevents them from learning. It prevents them from being able to be healthy.

ABC News reported that 2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in the US, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 250 of these bills were introduced and at least 17 were enacted into law.

Wilkie said that queer issues and access to supportive resources have been the priority against anti-LGBTQ attacks in recent years, and this has been a heightened effort since the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.

LGBTQ youth in the state, who have a higher risk for suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety, have been struggling, but Wilkie says advocacy groups will continue to fight these bills.

We will fight. It’s so disheartening to think that they would not be able to freely talk about themselves, or learn anything about their history.

Ignorance is bliss advocate Senator Dennis Baxley (YouTube screenshot)

Apart from welcoming SB 1834, far-right LifeSiteNews, notorious for its anti-vax propaganda, jubilantly reports on another of Baxley’s bills: SB 1842. This, it said, would impose a raft of changes “designed to protect children and strengthen parental control over sexual content in K-12 schools.”

The proposed bill expands the definition of “child pornography” to include any text describing a minor involved in sexual conduct and also broadens definitions of material deemed “harmful to minors” or “obscene.” Content that falls under those definitions would be banned in public K-12 school libraries and classrooms and on public school reading lists.

Schools districts that do not “proactively remove all such materials” would risk felony charges under Baxley’s bill.

SB 1842 states

If the district school board finds that any instructional material, including any materials used in the classroom or assigned or offered as reading material, violates this section, the material shall be proactively removed. This required action is not dependent on a parent or resident complaint. Any person violating any provision of this section commits a felony of the third degree regarding schools.”

School districts would be required to review instructional material in public school classrooms by July 1, 2023 to check for violations and remove them “regardless of whether the district school board has received any complaint about the material.”

SB 1842 would additionally overhaul sex education, mandating that schools obtain parents’ written consent before exposing students to content about “reproductive health” or sexually transmitted diseases. Florida law currently allows parents to opt out of sex-ed, but does not require parental approval to teach it.

“A student whose parent does not give written consent for such teaching may not be penalized by reason of that withholding of consent,” the bill adds.

All of this is terrifying stuff that points to a rapidly growing “ignorance is bliss” mindset among conservative Republican lawmakers who are proudly waging war on the teaching of sexuality and reproductive rights.

In 2020, Rachel Simmons, writing for The Hinsdalean, said:

Sexual activity is a normal and natural part of life, and 95 percent of people will engage in sexual activity at some point during their lifetime. This ultimately means that as a society, we should be offering the most comprehensive sex-ed possible to students so they can make informed and safe choices for themselves, instead of maintaining the mindset that the best and only option is to tell students to avoid (or abstain) from these activities.

We cannot live in a false reality where we believe that kids will stay kids forever. This education is essential for every person, no matter the point they are at in their lives or what their identity or orientation is. Learning this information sooner rather than later will enable students to be able to make healthy and informed decisions not only for themselves, but for their partners as well.

So, although some may feel that sex-ed is being taught to kids at too young of an age, for some students it may be too late if, as a society, we were to wait to teach this information until it seems more ‘relevant’ to them.

Comprehensive sex ed, including both contraceptives and abstinence, is vital for everyone, especially the younger crowd. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to sex-ed. Accurate and scientific information needs to be presented to give students the best chance at advocating for, and protecting, their health.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....