If the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passes in Florida, my kids will have a school life tragically similar to mine

When these groups talk about ‘family values’, they are not picturing my husband and I in our exurban home, giving an adopted child a better life. In the future, our children could be the source of a lawsuit against a school district when they talk about their dads and how much they love them

Colby Snaidman
Florida
Monday 31 January 2022 16:58
Comments
<p>Same Sex Silencing </p>

Same Sex Silencing

2008 was a whirlwind year. The economy was in meltdown, America was on the cusp of electing its first Black president and I was graduating high school. Of course, we did elect Barack Obama that year, with my home state of Florida helping to put him over the top. In that same election, Florida voters also decided to deny people like me the right to marry whom we loved — in essence, making us second-class citizens. That was Amendment 2, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman (and is still in the Florida Constitution).

That was also the year that the Holmes County School Board was successfully sued in the case Gillman vs Holmes County School District. I attended Holmes County High School (the largest high school in Holmes County), which is one city over on I-10. But the attitude and actions of former Principal Davis were also shared by the administration of Holmes County High.

As there were not many out and open LGBTQ+ students, we were a close-knit group. When teenagers have an axe to grind, and adults want to snuff out their identities, the teens will inevitably get creative. We would wear rainbow bracelets and be told to remove them. We would write “Gay Pride” on our hands or arms and be told to wash them. When we asked why, the administration would say, “It’s distracting to the other students,” or, “It’s not conducive to the learning environment.”

Of course, this is what any school official says to comply with the student free speech jurisprudence established by the federal judiciary. But the argument was silly to listen to, even for seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds. Eventually, a student one school over was brave enough to reach out to the ACLU and act. The community took the news as well as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But the point is that discrimination, even couched in the thinnest of veils, was alive and thriving in Florida.

Now, almost fourteen years later, the Florida Legislature is poised to allow school employees, districts, and administrations to force LGBTQ+ students back into the closet while at a place of learning. HB 1557, sponsored by Rep. Harding (Republican), states: “A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” In other words, schools, as many LGBTQ+ advocates have already stated, “can’t say gay”.

Under this bill, it is not hard to imagine that other students could sue the school in the way they did during my own school days. The companion Senate bill (SB-1834) has the dubious honor of being sponsored by none other than my very own Florida State Senator Baxley (Republican), and both leave so much room for interpretation that you fit the Gulf of Mexico through them. What is “age-appropriate” for a gay, lesbian, or trans middle school student, for instance?

When reading the lobbyists’ disclosures on the bill, the same organizations who warned of a Sodom and Gomorrah-style ending to America in the 1990s are still at it. Florida Family Policy Council, Inc. and Florida Family Action (presumably inspired by Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council) have their fingerprints all over it. When groups such as these talk about “family values” or “freedom” they are not picturing my husband and I in our exurban home with the thought of adopting a child to enrich our lives and give that child a better life filled with love. In the future, our children could be the source of a lawsuit against a school district when they talk about their dads and how much they love them. How does that contribute to “family values”?

When people like Rep. Harding, Sen. Baxley, and the right-wing, reactionary groups who lobby for these unnecessary bills think of “protecting the children”, what they are really doing is enveloping themselves in a cocoon of denial. As Floridians, we all have a family member, or a neighbor, or a friend who is LGBTQ+. Either that, or we just simply believe in the dignity of people to live their lives without being harassed, intimidated, silenced, beaten, or killed. Will we take a stand? Or are going to give in to division, fear and apathy?

As we have seen in recent American history, it starts with “You can’t say gay”. Next, you can’t say that we are a country that has struggled with racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, and a host of other prejudices in the past. And finally, rights start to get rolled back, starting with the right to an identity as exercised through free speech.

When the group in power can simply decide which groups deserve an identity worthy of discussion, nothing good can come of it.

I would like to think that many Floridians could overcome the powers of polarization and partisanship to stop and ask themselves honestly: “Is my fear of the other side so great that I am wiling to allow state-sponsored silencing?” As President Barack Obama said, “To do nothing is also a choice.” Will you be known to future generations as someone who stood aside and allowed hate and fear to reign? I hope that one day I can look my children in the eyes and tell them that Florida stood up for us.

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