By Yaffa Goldkin
The newly dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, formally termed Bill HB 1557, in Florida is effectively banning any discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools with young children. The bill is heading to another House Committee and then to the floor of the House for a final vote. Most people may think it is impossible to pass a bill like this. In New York City, maybe that’s true. But in Florida–where the majority of the House is Republicans who support this bill–well, that’s a different story. In fact, Governor DeSantis already voiced his favor of the bill passing.
The bill will seek to erase all conversations about anything within the LGBTQ+ realm in schools. The proposal states that administrations “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.” This inherently vague bill is unclear about what these discussions could mean, which children they are referring to, what ‘encouraging’ means, and much more.
The press secretary of Equality Florida, Brandon Wolf, has questioned the obscurity of the proposal. He asks: “Does it mean that school districts could no longer host Women’s History Month conversations in classrooms because being a woman is a gender identity? If school districts allow teachers to put pictures of their partners on their desks—is that encouraging students to ask questions about sexual orientation based on the gender identity of their partner?” While it may seem extreme, Wolf has a valid point about how gender identity and sexual orientation are two casual things to speak about, though normally in a heteronormative context.
The implications of this bill suggest that the simple topic of LGBTQ+ people is inappropriate for the classroom. This idea stems from a long history of homophobia and transphobia that says queer-ness is perverted and inappropriate. Taking away the ability for students to be able to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with teachers can lead to a serious mental health decline in students. The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that works on suicide prevention in LGBTQ+ teens, says that queer youth who had discussions about LGBTQ+ identities in a classroom have a 23% less chance of a reported suicide attempt. Equality Florida, which advocates for ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, says that “this legislation is meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom.”
In 2021, there was a record number of seventeen anti-LGBTQ+ laws enacted. This was the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed in a year since 2015. If this bill is passed in Florida, it will continue to add to the regularity of homophobia and transphobia in our nation. Even President Biden, tweeting from the White House, said, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community–especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill- to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.” Chasten Buttigieg, husband of transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, says, “This will kill kids. You are purposely making your state a harder place for LGBTQ+ kids to live.”
The idea of this bill, more or less, is to erase queer identities at school. The bill is so vague that the fear of possibly breaking it will have teachers be silent on LGBTQ+ discussions, in fear of retribution. A parent could possibly sue a school for district violations, and this could lead to an unnecessary lawsuit. Simply put, if this bill is to pass, teachers and administrations in schools will be forced to stop acknowledging that queer people exist. The bill is already hurting children in classrooms without yet being passed. In one case, a boy was told he could not present a family history project since his uncle was gay.
The erasure of queer identities is not something that is new to the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the Jewish community and at Yeshiva University. In my experience at YU, LGBTQ+ people are rarely spoken about, rarely acknowledged, and rarely given platforms to speak about their experiences. In Yeshiva University, LGBTQ+ clubs and organizations are not permitted to exist because the administration refuses to allow them. The YU Pride Alliance, an existing organization, is suing the school over the lack of their official club status despite the multiple times trying to apply for it.
The mission statement of the YU Pride Alliance is to provide a safe space for all students to feel comfortable and supported, regardless of their sexual and gender identity, as well as to seek to educate the wider YU community on the Jewish LGBTQ+ world. Queer presence in classrooms in YU are not spoken about, and the Pride Alliance strives to make the opposite happen. With an administration that is unable to support the LGBTQ+ club, it is hard for queer people and allies to voice their support without retribution. Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t be something people are ashamed of, and people should be proud of their identity.
We ‘don’t say gay’ here at Yeshiva University. At least, that is what the administration is seemingly striving for. However, everyday the LGBTQ+ community will stand up and stand their ground in this fight. No matter if it is anonymous or not, everyone aims to one day have an equal and accepting community at this university. One day, we can speak about being gay, and our personal experiences.
In Florida, they are taking this opportunity away from children in secular schools. They are taking away the freedom for children to be able to express and talk about their identities. Here, in our university ranging from teenagers to adults, we have the ability to change that. We at Yeshiva University have the ability to be proud, speak up, and create an open queer community.