Reactions to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills

Students discuss LGBT-limiting legislation


Sophomore students sit in health class. The Florida bills prohibit discussions of LGBT identity in schools.

Sarah Kluckhohn

In Florida and other southern states, there are a number of so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills floating around local legislature. These bills restrict the right of teachers to discuss LGBT history and identity in the classroom. 

Gay-Straight Alliance administrator Kara Marlin said the bills are harmful towards LGBT students. 

“A lot of what these bills are trying to accomplish is treating LGBT people as ‘other’ so it is easier to dehumanize them,” Marlin said. “If teacher’s can’t talk about that sort of thing, we’re not only removing the opportunity for people to learn about those that are different from them, we’re also illegalizing those identities by saying that certain identities aren’t school-appropriate.” 

Sophomore Catie Miller said the people passing the bills are trying to silence discussions in order to erase LGBT identities. 

“They are trying to silence queer people and pretend like we don’t exist, like we’ve never existed,” Miller said. “It’s hurtful because people are trying to erase our existence as queer people. We’re being ignored and undermined.” 

The bills argue that discussions of gender and sexual orientation should be had at home with parents, not in classrooms. Marlin said this could be unsafe for queer children. 

“Ideally, it’s a discussion that should be had in both spaces, but it’s also important to understand that for many students, home isn’t a safe place to be having those conversations,” Marlin said. “If a student wants to talk to their family about it, but they know it could be dangerous to do that, school is an important place where kids can learn about different identities and grow into who they are authentically. It’s important to protect that option for students.” 

Sophomore Tina Benyam said the bills are anti-free speech, since they limit the rights of students to talk and learn about their experiences. According to Benyam, the bills force classrooms to push a specific narrative onto children that aligns with the legislature’s personal views. 

“They are trying to suppress free speech and hide discussions they don’t agree with as people in power,” Benyam said. “They’re trying to mask it as protecting children, but in reality they’re just pushing their own views on them.” 

According to Marlin, the bills could also be dangerous for the health of LGBT students. They said that when schools aren’t allowed to discuss sex education that caters towards them, LGBT students will be left without proper awareness of safe sex. 

“It is 100% unsafe to leave those students without sex education,” Marlin said. “If LGBT people are left out of sex education, they won’t know how to have safe sex and avoid getting STDs or STIs.”

According to Miller, discussing LGBT identity in schools is important for normalizing the subject. She said that LGBT issues and history should be just as talked about as others. 

“The more often you discuss things like that, the more normalized it is,” Miller said. “When we’re kids, we’re talking about straight relationships all the time, and even in school that’s considered normal. I don’t see why we can’t also talk about gay relationships or trans identity in an appropriate way. If you feel comfortable talking about a straight relationship to a kid, you should also feel comfortable talking about a gay relationship.” 

While Minnesota has passed bills essentially making the state a safe haven for LGBT students, Marlin said they are still worried, even if the issue isn’t local. Marlin said that while Park doesn’t limit discussions of LGBT topics, it also doesn’t push for them to be taught. 

“(The bills) still worry me because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We shouldn’t tolerate it anywhere else just because it’s not happening here,” Marlin said. “Our support of LGBT students hasn’t been as loud as it should be, considering so many states are targeting them. Nobody’s telling me I can’t talk about it, but I also don’t want to be the only one talking about it.”