On March 8, Florida’s legislature passed a bill banning the discussion of sexual orientation and gender expression in elementary school classrooms. According to The Associated Press, Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law. If he does so, the legislation will go into effect on July 1, per ABC News. While the bill is officially titled “The Parental Rights in Education” bill, LGBT activists are calling it the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, as, according to ABC News, they fear “it could act as a complete ban on the lessons on LGBTQ oppression, history and discussions about LGBTQ identities.” This bill is far from the only legislature of its kind, as numerous bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ minors have been proposed nationwide in recent months. In fact, according to NBC News, in January and February alone, over 170 Anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed, with at least 69 of those targeting schools.
The bill in Florida is just one example of the laws specifically targeting transgender and nonbinary youth that have been recently introduced. According to NPR, in 2021 alone, over 40 bills targeting transgender and nonbinary youth were proposed in Texas. Additionally, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion likening gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth to child abuse. NPR continues that Governor Gregg Abbot also released a letter urging “professionals, including teachers and doctors, to report parents who give their children gender-affirming care.”
The effects of these bills go beyond the limitation of conversations in schools or the regulation of sports teams; they take a severe toll on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. NBC News tells the story of 16-year-old Spencer Lyst from Tennessee, who stated that he lives with nearly constant anxiety about whether he will be attacked for his identity. He went as far as to say that he faces difficulty going to the bathroom at school, “for fear of what or who ‘might be in there.’” Lyst’s struggle is not unique.
The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, saw more than 10,800 crisis calls and texts in the eight months following the enactment of a law in Texas that barred transgender youth from playing on the sports teams that aligned with their gender expression, NPR reports. Over a third of these messages came from transgender and nonbinary youth. It is important to note that while advocates for such laws claim it evens the playing field for athletes, according to Axios, many states without these laws have not seen examples of transgender athletes having an unfair advantage in women’s sports.
Even prior to the most recent laws, the Trevor Project reported that there was a 150 percent increase in crisis contacts from LGBT youth in Texas between 2020 and 2021, according to NPR. While there is no single cause for this phenomenon, NPR writes that analysis has found that LGBT youth are dealing with increased stress, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts due to the laws being introduced in their states. In fact, according to Axios, the Trevor Project found that 52 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth have considered suicide.
This data goes to show that while the bill in Florida may be officially called “Parental Rights in Education” bill and frames itself as a means to protect parents and their students, it may be doing more harm than good.