You may have seen Florida House Bill 1557 in the news in 2022. This is a bill put forth to prevent educators from sharing or teaching subject matter than involves or reflects LGBTQ people. It’s being called the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
Moving to Florida was a big deal for us in many way and a lot of people questioned it, particularly because of the frightening conservative and GOP stances of much of the state, or at least of the elected officials. In general, we’ve had minimal problems or interactions as an LGBTQ family living or traveling in the South, but this bill is disheartening and great cause for concern.
Key elements of FL HB 1557 that hurst LGBTQ kids and families:
- prohibits discussion of LGBTQ topics in school – language leaves teachers/schools that do talk about LGBTQ topics open to lawsuits
- requires school staff to “out” kids to parents within 6 weeks should they come out at school – noted as disclosing a child’ “well being,” this can be extremely damaging to kids, including many kids suffering abuse or being kicked out of their homes. **UPDATE, the original verbiage has been removed, but it’s important to understand that this was a part of the original passing bill.
- impacts mental health of LGBTQ kids and those in LGBTQ families – how would it impact you if your own being or your family was a dangerous or inappropriate topic to discuss at school?
You’ll see people state that this bill only impacts grades K-3, but it reaches beyond that due to how it is vaguely worded. Also, consider my first grader answering a question at school and then another kid questioning having two dads, and all of the sudden the topic is brought up and my kind and loving first grader is told that he cannot talk about his family or answer questions from other kids, or that his teacher might get in trouble for allowing that discussion to happen in a classroom environment.
Do you see the problem yet? Do you see how this WILL impact kids and families like ours?
Here is my response to just one of the comments left on the blog. I deleted a fair number of troll comments and have gotten countless more through social media.
Responding to a parent who stated that they need to be informed and involved in the conversations with their kids:
It seems that some think LGBTQ people and families are a dangerous topic that should be demonized, otherwise this would strike them very differently. The verbiage of the bill literally opens the door for parents to present a lawsuit of sorts should, for example, my kid offer up any minute detail of our family which another kid then might question or refer back to in the school environment.
So then my kid has to be careful to not talk about his family to protect the school staff… so then there must be something wrong and dangerous about our family. So then now my kid feels that he and his family have shame and are less than, which will weigh on him all through life.
Read the bill, consider how it might impact your kids if they were in the same situation as our kids. Or if your kids shared that they, yes even at a young age, know that they’re an LGBTQ individual.
UPDATE: the Florida House Bill 1557 has passed both the FL Senate and House and is awaiting signing by the governor, who is not a man that supports progress, liberal ideals, or rights for all Floridians. After a lot of pressure, Disney and other corporations have spoke up denouncing the bill, including Disney’s CEO calling the governor directly, but it is still set to be passed into law.
The following opinion editorial really struck me and I feel that sharing more about why FL HB 1557 is a very dangerous bill is important. From writer Thomas Ryan-Lawrence:
Earlier this week, news outlets across the country reported on the advancement of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial “Parental Rights in Education Bill”, also known as HB 1557. In case you missed it, the bill was passed by the state House’s GOP-controlled Education and Employment Committee on January 20th by a vote of 15-5. While the bill’s sponsors claim the legislation aims to “provide parents with greater oversight over what their students learn and discuss at school”, the passage of this bill would be detrimental not only to LGBTQ students, but also to LGBTQ families across the State.
Policy makers across the country are discussing the variety of social issues that should or should not be approached in public education and exactly how deep parental rights go in contributing to that decision. I find it interesting that parents are, for the most part, not involved in the selection of other curriculum in public schools, yet somehow feel entitled to have their voices heard when it comes to topics such as Critical Race Theory or sexual orientation and gender identity.
Republican state Representative Joe Harding told CNN on Monday that this law would apply to students in kindergarten through third grade. Claiming, “At that age they need to be worried about reading and worrying about their math,” he said. “For me, it’s why are we sensationalizing this age to have all these questions and to force so many questions…We’re talking specifically about young, elementary-age children that just don’t need that stress in general.”
So, having worked with the LGBTQ community, with a focus on inclusive environments, for 18 years and being a gay dad, I posted about the advancement of HB 1557 on both the Gayborhood Business Alliance and ARK Leadership LinkedIn pages; organizations that I am a managing partner of. A colleague that I met while speaking at a symposium on Culture Building Basics for the Studer Community Institute in Pensacola, FL messaged me on LinkedIn after seeing my post. My topic at the symposium was “Belonging – The Gateway to Innovation and Inclusivity.”
In her message, she said: “Saw your post about the LGBTQ measure…we often find ourselves planning to move out of FL. Anyway, the article says it’s aimed at kids K-3. I don’t disagree with you…but I don’t know much about this. I plan to read up on when kids start needing to talk about this. I don’t think I started paying attention to boys until around fifth grade.”
In writing my response, it inspired me to write this piece. This bill is not just about how students identify with their own sexual orientation, but also for those students living in LGBTQ households. Of those under the age of 50 who are living alone or with a spouse or partner, 48% of LGBTQ women and 20% of LGBTQ men in the United States are raising children under the age of 18.
The Trevor Project is quoted as stating the bill would “ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity is schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history and culture – as well as LGBTQ students themselves.” Now, there is some debate on exactly when sexual orientation begins to be recognized in children. Personally, I knew at five that I was attracted to men and not women. I didn’t know what it meant at the time…but I knew one thing for sure: I was different.
This bill doesn’t just affect LGBTQ youth. Don’t get me wrong….the possibility is high that it will; someone at that age will identify as LGBTQ. It is well documented by The Trevor Project that “LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the last year.” But, again, as state Representative Joe Harding said, “For me, it’s why are we sensationalizing this age to have all these questions and to force so many questions.” The simple answer: because when these kids get into the real world, the fact that LGBTQ people exist and will be alongside them is very true.
The entire point of me writing this piece is around the last statement and the question from my colleague. You see, my husband and I have an 8-year old son. He’s precious, sweet, and innocent. I’d like to think he’s that way in part because of how we’ve raised him. So, when my colleague asked what is an appropriate age to start the conversation around sexual orientation and gender identify, my response was “as early as possible.” As same-sex parents, we have always strived to teach our son that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some may have two daddies or two mommies, some may have a dad and a mom, some may have an auntie or grandparents, and some may be single-parent households. All that matters is love.
Should this law pass, what happens when he goes to school and tries to explain to his friends that he has two dads? For the record, he just turned eight-years old in January and is in second grade, so yes…this law would affect our family. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging are often ignored in our public school system. I can say this as a current board member in my sixth year of service with a Charter School in the Atlanta Public School District. I am proud to say our school has made DEI a primary focus as part of its culture. At the same time, I am saddened to say the majority of the school districts I have seen do not take the same approach.
So, I will close with this…my son’s name is Noah and he is eight years old. As I mentioned before, he is a precious, sweet, innocent soul that has a heart the size of Texas. What is he to do in second grade when talking about his two dads if we lived in Florida and this bill becomes law? Are the teachers going to unilaterally ignore his family unit? He surely would be made to feel “less than” or “different” for having two loving parents at home just because we aren’t a cisgendered opposite sex couple. How will a child that isn’t LGBTQ, but is a part of a LGBTQ family be treated if this law were to pass? How will they view their family in relation to others? If we cannot guarantee that experience will be positive, should it even occur?
If you live in Florida, and agree that there are a multitude of reasons why HB 1557 should not pass into law, please reach out to your representative and express your opposition. Feel free to quote this article and please help spread the word; a copy of this article has been sent to the Speaker of the House, The Honorable Chris Sprowles.
One of the worst possible outcomes is not only HB 1557 passing in Florida, but then being used as a justification for similar laws in other states. So many families are counting on us to stand up and have our voices heard.
written by Thomas Ryan-Lawrence, SPHR
Thomas Ryan-Lawrence is an entrepreneur living in Atlanta, GA with his husband and eight-year old son. He has worked in the LGBTQ community for nearly two decades and currently serves as the President of the Gayborhood Business Alliance and VP, Operations for ARK Leadership.