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Florida Set to Pass “Don’t Say Gay” Bill—What It Means and Why It’s Problematic

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Key Takeaways

  • Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis is set to sign the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law.
  • The bill bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity between kindergarten and the third grade.
  • Supporters claim the bill increases parental rights, but research shows that discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools improves the mental health of LGBTQ+ students.

Four states currently have laws prohibiting or limiting the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, and it looks as if Florida is set to join them, prompting concerns for LGBTQ+ children and parents in the state.

On Tuesday, March 8, the Florida Senate passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which aims to restrict schools from teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity. If governor Ron DeSantis signs the Parental Rights in Education bill, to give it its official name, into law, it’ll come into force from July 1. From here, all school districts will need to update their plans by June 2023. 

The four states which have laws prohibiting or limiting the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom are: Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. Lawmakers have repealed similar laws in Arizona, Alabama, North Carolina, and Utah, while the US District Court of South Carolina overturned another similar law in 2020. 

Some have also compared the law to the Section 28 legislation in effect in the United Kingdom between 1988 and 2003, which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, and it’s at odds with nationwide legislation like the executive order signed by President Joe Biden last year outlining that everyone should receive equal treatment under the law regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

What's In The Bill?

The bill bans any teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity between kindergarten and the third grade, but also orders school districts to steer clear of LGBTQ+ topics “when not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” regardless of their grade. It also allows parents and teachers to sue any school in which they feel an educator isn’t following the law.

However, many LGBTQ+ students experience bullying and discrimination at school, and research suggests that one way to reduce this is to provide training to school personnel—from teachers to other faculty members—so that they’re better equipped to support LGBTQ+ students.

It’s the second such law that Florida has passed in recent days. The “Stop WOKE Act”, or Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act has passed the Senate and like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has headed to DeSantis to sign into law.

This bill bans educators from teaching critical race theory as well as lessons on gender identity, and could mean that employers are subject to discrimination claims if they require training or discussions on race and gender identity.

What This Means For You

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill restricts discussion around sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, and though it only explicitly mentions kindergarten through to the third grade, this bill could affect LGBTQ+ students in any grade.


Why It's Problematic

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill will severely restrict the ways in which school personnel can support students, whether they’ve ‘come out’ or not, preventing them from teaching LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom. 

When LGBTQ+ students perceive personnel to be supportive, their mental health and academic performance both improve, and this bill will likely have the opposite effect, whether by banning discussion outright, or making educators reluctant to broach the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity due to a fear of being sued. 

Marshall Moore, PhD

The idea isn’t so much to criminalize specific words, or discussions of topics like sexual orientation, same-sex marriage, or gender identity, as it is to create a legal grey area which can then be weaponized in the courts

— Marshall Moore, PhD

Supporters of the bill have argued that as it only explicitly targets teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity between kindergarten and the third grade, older students are unaffected. However, schools will also have to stop the teaching of topics “when not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate”, something which is clearly subjective. As parents will have the power to sue schools, educators may not want to take the risk.

This argument also ignores that many LGBTQ+ people have said they knew or questioned their sexual orientation or gender identity at a very young age, be that in grade school or earlier. 

Research shows that the median age at which lesbian, gay or bisexual adults first felt they may not be straight is 12 years old, with over a quarter (27%) of respondents saying that they were under ten years old. This defense of the bill plays into the trope that LGBTQ+ people don’t figure out their sexuality until they’re older – something that in many cases is patently untrue. 

And where students do identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, research shows that teaching an LGBTQ+-affirming curriculum and bringing attention to LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom can help in making schools more positive environments for them - no matter their age.

David Baker-Hargrove, PhD, co-CEO of mental health nonprofit 26Health, says, “Although the bill is focused on conversations occurring in grades K-3, it sends a message to all LGBTQ+ young people that 'there is shame in your identity.'"

Dr. Baker-Hargrove brings up the progress made in recent years, from gay-straight alliance clubs to supportive teachers and school counselors, and describes legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as risking “taking school culture back to the ‘70s and ‘80s and having all these safe spaces ripped away, forcing these kids back into the shadows to hide in shame with no one to talk to and left to grow up feeling alone and isolated.”

Supporters also claim that the bill will strengthen parental rights - indeed, in an earlier version of the bill that has since been pulled, school principals would be required to tell parents if a child ‘came out’ as anything other than straight. However, these increased parental rights will come at the expense of young people who might not feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ+ topics with their parents, particularly if their parents don’t talk about them to begin with, and may not get to discuss them at school either. 

Marshall Moore, PhD, a senior lecturer at Falmouth University who covers LGBTQ+ fiction and representation, describes the bill as being “more abhorrent than it appears on the surface because it is deliberately vague”.

He continues, “The idea isn’t so much to criminalize specific words, or discussions of topics like sexual orientation, same-sex marriage, or gender identity, as it is to create a legal grey area which can then be weaponized in the courts.”

Among the various protests against and criticisms of the bill, students in Florida have voiced their own objections, staging a number of walkouts in opposition to the legislation. 

Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ rights organization Equality Florida says that the bill stigmatizes LGBTQ+ individuals further and will “isolate LGBTQ youth that are already at far higher risk than their peers of depression, anxiety, discrimination, and suicidality. These are young people who need affirmation and support – not being told there is something wrong with them.”

As Dr. Baker-Hargrove explains, “The devastating impact of having to grow up that way to mental health can be lifelong, severe, and interfere with fulfilled adult living in so many ways".

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UK National Archives. Local Government Act 1988.

  2. The Florida Senate. CS/CS/HB 1557 - Parental Rights in Education.

  3. Russell ST, Bishop MD, Saba VC, James I, Ioverno S. Promoting school safety for LGBTQ and all studentsPolicy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2021;8(2):160-166. doi:10.1177/23727322211031938

  4. The Florida Senate. CS/HB 7 - Individual Freedom.

  5. Abreu RL, Audette L, Mitchell Y, et al. LGBTQ student experiences in schools from 2009–2019: A systematic review of study characteristics and recommendations for prevention and intervention in school psychology journalsPsychology in the Schools. 2022;59(1):115-151. doi:10.1002/pits.22508

  6. Pew Research Center. A survey of LGBT Americans. Chapter 3: The coming out experience.