By David T. Valentin
Republican lawmakers in Florida are set on passing a bill that would restrict the way teachers and students can talk about “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in elementary school, while also allowing for parents to sue schools if they suspect they are in violation with the bill.
In defense of the bill, it reads, “The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to seek permission to discuss or facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent.”
The bill goes on saying, “A school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information”
In other words, the bill attempts to limit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity under the guise of “caring” for the wellbeing of children—believing discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity to be inappropriate and harmful for their children; as if freedom of expression is detrimental, not beneficial, to a child’s wellbeing.
If a parent restricts a child from discussions of such topics and find school personnel are withdrawing information that they, or their child, is exploring or discussing topics of sexual orientation and gender identity, they are able to sue.
Such a rule would force teachers to comply with the bill under pressure of potential backlash from parents of their students, thus forcing teachers to almost “report” to parents if their child is having these discussions.
In a way, teachers would be outing many of their students who may not be comfortable discussing their sexual orientation with their parents, or, even worse, may not be safe coming out to their parents. Not only does this put mistrust between student and teacher, a trust that’s crucial to making sure a student feels safe and listened to in the classroom, but also a wedge between parent and child.
Although the bill disguises restriction of discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity for the well-being of children, the bill would do quite the opposite. Restricting discussions of LGBTQ+ issues does nothing to change a child’s sexuality and only makes a child feel isolated and alone.
Florida Republicans, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said recently, “We’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘Oh, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff.’ They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate.“
In an interview with Time, Kara Gross, Legislative director and senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said, “Elementary school students are assigned to draw pictures of their families and present them to their class. If a child being raised by a same-sex couples draws a picture of their two dads, their teacher may face a decision between allowing the child to participate-and opening themselves and their school up to lawsuits-or excluding them from the exercise.
She adds, “It is always appropriate for kids to talk about themselves, their experiences and their families. These are not taboo subjects but banning them makes them so.”