‘Hurtful and insulting’: Florida teachers react to the ‘don’t say gay’ bill

Clinton McCracken, an art teacher in Orange county, 佛罗里达, grew up in a small midwest town where he didn’t experience a person out as LGBTQ until he went away to college. He’s concerned Florida’s recent controversial “don’t say gay” bill is dangerous, hateful legislation that poses many risks to LGBTQ youth in the state.

“I wasn’t able to walk to any classroom and see rainbow stickers on the door that says this is a safe place where you can be who you are,” said McCracken. “We have that now. That’s what we’re trying to create for our students. This law, I see as an effort to take away the years that we’ve put in trying to make this a better place for kids so they don’t have to grow up like I grew up, where I thought I was all alone and then I barely made it through high school.”

Florida’s teachers, 学生们, and LGBTQ community are continuing to speak out against the bill that was by right-wing Trump-supporting governor Ron DeSantis last month.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality Florida, and Florida families have filed a lawsuit challenging the bill, arguing it is unconstitutional . The legislation has already begun to have a chilling effect on teachers, students and the LGBTQ community, though it doesn’t go into effect until July.

bill, called the Parental Rights Education bill by its Republican authors, prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as any instruction characterized as inappropriate – vague language that has incited concerns the bill will be used to suppress and intimidate mere acknowledgment of the LGBTQ community in public schools.

“Don’t say gay” also grants parents the right to sue for damages and attorney fees if a school district doesn’t resolve their complaint about a child’s education, which essentially forbids discussion of LGBTQ issues or identities. A teacher in St Johns county was 强调他所谓的对犯罪统计数据的“误导性”使用 by their school district after a parent complained about his T-shirt, which said “Protect Trans Kids.”

McCracken characterized the bill and copy-cat legislative efforts spreading in other parts of the US as part of a war on gay cvil rights ignited by Republicans and is deeply concerned about the negative impacts of the bill on students and teachers.

“As a gay man, I find it both hurtful and insulting. It’s hurtful, because I don’t believe there’s anything inappropriate about my life as a gay man,“ 他说. “I have a loving husband, we have a wonderful life together. I believe that I’m a good teacher and have positively impacted students and that me being gay not only hasn’t been detrimental to their learning, but it has probably been helpful for a lot of people – not only LGBTQ+ students, but other students as well who see that I’m willing to live my life openly and that I believe everyone should be able to live their life with dignity and respect and we should be treating each other like fellow humans.”

Many other Florida teachers agree.

“The vagueness of the language in this bill opens an unfortunate door into allowing bigotry to continue,” said Caitlin Pearse, an elementary school music teacher in Hillsborough county, 佛罗里达. “What we’re talking about here is the right to be seen and represented in classrooms. We have lots of books in elementary school showing heterosexual couples, they have parent characters that are moms and dads, things like that. We want to be seen the same way that straight couples are seen in media.”

The bill was supposedly incited by a 诉讼 filed by parents against Leon county, 佛罗里达, who claimed they were not involved by the school in a discussion about their child’s gender identity, 尽管 emails obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat revealed the mother of the child had worked with a teacher on how to handle the situation.

Florida Republican state senator Dennis Baxley, a sponsor of the bill, 在 remarks on the state senate floor, made claims of a big uptick in the number of children coming out as gay and framed the bill as a response to that. Through his political career, Baxley has also fought against same-sex marriage, equated the children of people with substance use disorders to the children of lesbian parents, voted in 2015 to permit private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with LGBTQ parents, and supported other anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“This bill, 为我, is a sign of pure hatred,” said Javier Gomez, a high school senior at iPrep Academy in Miami, 佛罗里达, and president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. “They’re targeting a demographic that can really benefit from all these teachings about gender identity and sexual orientation, about differences in cultures, and learning about accepting themselves for who they are, because a lot of kids at a very young age know who they are. I knew that I was gay at five years old.”

Florida was already a poor climate for LGBTQ students. 一种 2019 民意调查 的 848 students in Florida conducted by GLSEN found the majority of students were regularly exposed to anti-LGBTQ remarks from other students or staff and high percentages of students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual or gender identity. 一种 报告 conducted by the Trevor Project estimates that at least one LGBT youth between the ages of 13 和 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the US.

“Many students who are not graduating are petrified. They’re scared, they’re horrified,” said 17-year-old CJ Walden, a high school student in Boca Raton, 佛罗里达, and vice-president of the LGBTQ advocacy non-profit PRISM FL. “Many students want to return to the closet, they are scared of being who they are, they’re scared of expressing themselves. And now that if teachers or counselors have to out or report students, if a student doesn’t have a supportive household, and now they can’t turn to an adult on campus, what are they supposed to do? We’re being left defenseless without the support we need and we are continuing to face homophobia from our government.”

Proponents of the “don’t say gay” legislation are manufacturing smear campaigns in support of expanding the bills to other states, 包括 要求 that Disney is attempting to “sexualize our children” as part of a progressive LGBTQ agenda. These accusations have been promoted by Chris Rufo, a rightwing thinktank fellow who 泄露 videos of Disney executives, claiming Disney has a “not so secret gay agenda”.

This is just a few weeks after Disney faced criticism from employees and the LGBTQ community for refusing to make a statement in opposition to Florida’s don’t say gay bill. Rufo previously worked as a fellow for the Claremont Institute, which has a troubling 记录 of anti-gay politics and pushing for conversion “therapy”.

“I’m gay too so this hits me doubly hard,” said Jean Eckhoff, a history teacher of middle school and high school students in Live Oak, 佛罗里达, 为了 17 年. “我是 52 岁, and I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.”

Eckhoff said she has been horrified not only by the bill’s passage in Florida, but by similar legislation being pushed in other states with Republican majorities around the US. Proponents of these bills are inflaming homophobic hate and chipping away at civil rights of the LGBTQ community under the guise of helping students and parents.

Similar bills are advancing or received calls for passage by Republicans in Alabama, 乔治亚州, Ohio, 路易斯安那州, Tennessee and Texas.

“They’ve unearthed these really debasing insults, calling anybody who disagrees with the bill a groomer and a pedophile, and that is a very serious charge for a teacher. It’s basically saying that you shouldn’t be in the classroom,” Eckhoff said. “It’s disgusting. It’s humiliating. Every time I turn on the news, every day in the newspaper, on Twitter or on Facebook, we’re being insulted every single day.”

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