April 4, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
‘Don’t Say Gay’ is about more than gender and sexuality. It’s about stripping children’s rights
That hurts everyone.
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the man responsible for leaving so many children without grandparents and parents, as he allowed the covid to run rampant in the state, decided to drop the gloves. He went straight for the children themselves.
On Monday, an excellent day to launch a culture-war bomb into the news cycle, DeSantis signed HB 1557, the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, popularly known by its critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”
Passed earlier in March, the law will take effect in July, giving the parents of LGBT children plenty of time to sell their houses and move to another state.
It all comes down to one thing: The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” is only superficially about restricting conversations about gender and sexuality. In reality, it is about weakening the power of civic institutions to offer protection to children from their families and, most importantly, vacating the rights of minors to constitutional protections.
What does HB 1557 say?
I suggest that you read it for yourself. There is so much more at stake than what to teach children about gender and sexuality.
requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying student’s parent of specified information; requires such procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.
I, too, have been focused on the threat to LGBT children and Florida’s attempt to ban all information about gender and sexuality from kindergarten through third grade. Perhaps the almost exclusive focus on this issue is part of the GOP plan. It is emotional on both sides.
It is an issue about which reasonable and ill-informed people might also disagree. I am not talking about the extremes: parents who send their children to pray away the gay versus open and affirming parents.
I am talking about ordinary people who are still working these things through, parents who worry that a child sexed male at birth who loves dresses and dolls might become aware of medical transitions before they have adult powers of reason. I am talking about parents who may prefer to take this journey with their child in private instead of in concert with a curriculum created by a consultant and delivered by a teacher not fully trained to address the backlash that LGBT materials can create for queer kids.
Of course, the legislation doesn’t address any of these familial and social problems, nor does shutting down the conversation.
But the new law does ensure that a child mocked for seeming queer cannot be defended by either the teacher or the school. It ensures there cannot be positive education that prevents such bullying.
Yet news stories do not make clear that failure to address homophobia and transphobia in schools harms students who are not queer.
As sociologist CJ Pascoe explained in Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (2011), for boys, the creation of a masculine identity is framed by rejecting anything that might cause them to be identified as a “fag.”
This includes admitting weakness, the desire for intimate friendship with other boys and the aggressive creation of a heteronormative persona through female conquest.
Instead, the punishment of “faggotry” in other boys encourages violence, shame and isolation.
But I want to underline that my initial concern about the high focus on sexuality in this legislation is because it is a broad attack on children going well beyond sex education. It seeks to eliminate a student’s right to privacy.
In other words, it affirms “parents’ rights” at the cost of eliminating children’s rights.
While it is unclear what “specified information” schools must notify parents about, this category could include a wide range of things:
- reading books that a parent has not approved in advance;
- expressing opinions that are at odds with the parents’ values;
- embracing or rejecting forms of religious practice, or activities such as meditation and yoga to which some religions might object;
- dressing in ways that parents have not approved;
- seeking needed health care, discussing sexual health, or reporting parental abuse;
- or expressing political interests that are at odds with parents’ own political commitments.
Use your imagination: the list could get longer.
But it all comes down to one thing:
The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” is only superficially about restricting conversations about gender and sexuality.
In reality, it is about weakening the power of civic institutions to offer protection to children from their families and, most importantly, vacating the rights of minors to constitutional protections.
Claire Bond Potter is the Editorial Board's politics historian. A professor of historical studies at The New School for Social Research in New York City, she is the co-executive editor of Public Seminar and the publisher of Political Junkie. Follow her @TenuredRadical.