Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Bill: LGBTQ+ history demands space and time in the classroom

By Benton Killion, assistant finance director

Throughout the past century, minorities in the United States have become recognized and their histories taught in schools. Just over a century ago, the women’s suffrage movement granted women the right to vote in the United States; nearly sixty years ago the civil rights movement officially declared segregation and racial discrimination illegal, and Stonewall sparked national attention to the gay rights movement over fifty years ago. Unfortunately, only the first two of these topics are currently taught in our public school curriculum before the high school level.

Stonewall, the most referenced event of LGBTQIA+ history, is mentioned in everything from plays to songs, though very little of this momentous event is currently disclosed even in the Massachusetts curriculum.

The so-called riots began in Greenwich Village, a suburb of New York City, in the summer of 1969 when a police raid at the Stonewall Inn sparked a series of protests demanding rights for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This event however did not begin the first LGBTQIA+ rights group, though it did begin the Gay Liberation Front which held many protests, the first of which was held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (June 28th) which led the institution of equality laws for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Even after 50 years, however, there is still much misinformation about this historic event. To begin with, the name itself is a misnomer. The Stonewall Riots weren’t really riots at all. They were, in fact, as much riots as the #MeToo protests from five years ago, so perhaps a more apt name for this event would be the Stonewall Protests. This event was so relaxed that multiple kicklines were formed. Not exactly rioting behavior.

It has also been thought that this event started with the death of Judy Garland, however, this idea was originally composed by a far-right news writer, who opposed the protests, as a way to discredit the movement. Furthermore, many people believe this event to be the start of the gay rights movement, however, this actually started as early as 1897 in Berlin with the founding of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee by Magnus Hirschfeld. Even the first American gay rights group was founded in the mid-1920s.

Of all the states, one might think Massachusetts would force LGBTQIA+ history to be taught in public schools as our state was the first to legalize same-sex marriage, yet, of the five states where these topics are required to be taught at the high school level, Massachusetts is not one of them. To the state’s credit, however, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has begun working these histories into its curriculum framework. A Massachusetts state standard requires all students grades 9-12 to be taught about LGBTQ+ history. Unfortunately, some states have taken a completely different approach to LGBTQIA+ history, like Florida, which recently passed its “Don’t-Say-Gay” bill, effectively denying the existence of homosexuality.

While Florida’s new bill does not explicitly prevent teachers from saying “gay”, it does state that sexual orientation and gender identities differing from cisgender and heterosexual standards will not be permitted to be taught in schools from kindergarten to third grade. To be cisgender is to identify with the gender that you were assigned at birth, or to not be transgender. This bill essentially demonstrates that anyone who does not fit this mold should not be treated equally.

Furthermore, the bill states that if parents have a problem with what their children are being taught, they are allowed to sue the school. For example, a parent who heard about a teacher reading a book to their class about a child with two male parents could sue the school for allowing this. While the bill does not explicitly prevent the education of LGBTQIA+ topics in schools, most teachers would, rightfully so, be too afraid to teach the subject out of fear of losing their job and their district being sued.

Many people in Florida don’t see the harm in this bill; however, there absolutely is a lot of harm in the passing of this bill. By preventing people from talking about a subject until they are in fourth grade, and even then heavily regulating it, the topic is seen as taboo and bad. These students are being taught that homosexuality exists at the same time they are being taught about slavery, though, in Florida, even that is pretty much ignored.

Some have argued that this bill only prevents the teaching of LGBTQIA+ topics to children, who do not know their own identities yet, so it’s not a big deal, or even, it is a good thing, because children should not be exposed to talk about sex. These people ignore the very real fact that gay people already exist, and exist in children’s lives. LGBTQ+ topics do not start and end with sex. Banning a toddler from talking about their two fathers, or two mothers, is cruel. It teaches the child shame, that, even if that child grows up to be cisgender and heterosexual, they will remember.

Discussion of gender identity can be as innocent as asking a child or their caregiver if they are a girl or a boy, something you have probably done before. Discussion of orientation can be equally as innocent. How many have you heard the term “playground crush” referring to a young child? How many books have you read aimed at young children that include parents? To erase orientation from all classes K-3 with honesty would be to ban books like Amelia Bedelia (which includes a married couple), The Chronicles of Narnia (which includes romance), and the Magic Treehouse series (which includes several married couples). I hope you realize how ridiculous this stipulation would be.

If we continue to not talk about LGBTQIA+ history and ignore its existence, we’re preventing people from becoming educated on this, apparently controversial, subject. When people are more educated, hatred diminishes, and eventually, we see that everyone is equal.

Most shockingly, this bill was passed not even six years after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, an event that will, presumably, never be mentioned in an Orlando school. This event killed 49 and wounded 53 more patrons of the infamous Pulse Orlando gay nightclub. It was the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the deadliest LGBTQIA+ hate crime in the world. Still, it would seem that it is meaningless in the minds of the Florida legislators.

If we don’t allow schools to teach about the history of the LGBTQIA+ community, the community, in the eyes of the students, doesn’t exist and everything the community has worked for over the past 2,000 years will be for nothing. Florida’s decision to pass their homophobic bills should be used as a wake-up call for the rest of the world that these rights we’ve earned are not going to last if we continue to elect homophobic representatives into our government. At the end of the day, they’re just that: representatives. The people we elect represent us and what we believe in, so rather than voting for someone just because they’re a Democrat or a Republican, vote for them because they share your beliefs. Don’t let our history be erased.

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