Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is just as bizarre as we thought, according to the person who sponsored it

Ridiculously, Dennis Baxley believes that children become ‘celebrities’ if they come out at school

Michael Arceneaux
New York
Tuesday 08 March 2022 20:49
<p>Protesters gather at Florida’s state capitol building </p>

Protesters gather at Florida’s state capitol building

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There is nothing good to say about the passage of Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill this week (HB 1557) – best known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In spite of international outcry, the controversial legislation passed on Tuesday in a 22-17 vote. Florida Governor DeSantis said at a news conference the day prior to the vote, “We are going to make sure parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into some of their school curriculum.”

By “some of this stuff,” this discount Donald Trump made it clear he means people like me. And what he has done through a bit of power and a lot of blunt-force prejudice is make it far more dangerous for queer and trans children living in Florida today.

This bill now either prohibits or extremely limits public school teachers from “instruction” about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-12. And, as noted by those who have read the bill in its entirety, there is no clear distinction between “classroom instruction” and “classroom discussion” therein. This is by design. The ambiguity will only encourage those who take umbrage with the very existence of the LGBTQ community.

Parents can sue a school district for violations under the legislation — and one imagines that a number of ultra-wealthy conservatives will jump at the chance.

Proponents of the bill may say they merely want to protect parental rights, but the sponsor of the bill revealed his true intentions on Monday. State Senator Dennis Baxley said that he was deeply uncomfortable with what he sees as a “real trend change” in society. “My son’s a psychiatrist and I said, ‘Why is everybody now all about coming out when you’re in school?’” Baxley said on the Senate floor. “And there really is a dynamic of concern of how much of these are genuine types of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things.” Indeed, Baxley believes that when kids come out, “overnight, they’re a celebrity.”

I have heard this variation of “it’s cool to be gay” for at least two decades now. I can confirm that it sounds dumber every single time. And in this case, it’s positively infuriating — because nobody with such an embarrassing view on what’s “cool” to kids or what it’s actually like in the hallways of American schools when you’re LGBTQ should be dictating how those kids are educated.

Of course, Baxley could just be playing dumb. I’m sure someone by now has informed him that LGBTQ youth suicide rates are expontentially high. The Trevor Project, a organization focused on LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention, recently released a report that found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ people or issues in school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt than the previous year.

This law directly confronts that reality. Baxley explicitly says that that he wrote it to try and reduce the number of kids coming out as gay, “for the wellbeing of our children.” What about the children whose mental health is irreparably damaged by the consequences of what’s written into that law? Does their wellbeing not matter?

One assumes, like the state of Texas, which just stripped LGBTQ suicide prevention resources from its state websites, Florida and its legislators don’t much care. All these people care about are a certain kind of folk: white, male, Protestant, heterosexual, and cisgendered. Everyone else can back fall in line — or, in the case of the LGBTQ community, go back into the closet.

Sadly, this is only the beginning.

Changing America recently reported on the 15 similar bills that have been introduced in GOP-controlled state legislatures seeking to restrict what teachers can and cannot say about sexuality and gender identity. I try not to think about what that newly conservative-majority Supreme Court might be up to, too.

That’s not to say all hope is lost. The community has and will continue to push back through both campaigning and legal challenges; not every teacher will adhere to this cruel law, either. Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed by how hated we still can be in America — and how dead set one party is on writing that hatred into law.

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