I am married to a man who was once a Black gay boy living in Florida, and he has told me the horrors of such. I am writing this for him.
I am writing for those kids, seen and unseen, who still have to endure trying to live with the constant war waged against their bodies, their livelihoods and their being.
Recently, Florida Senate voted 22-17 to pass the extremely controversial “Parental Rights in Education bill,” dubbed colloquially by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The measure in its basic language states that any teacher in Florida mentioning sexuality and/or gender that is not cisgender and/or heterosexual to students in Kindergarten to third grade will be criminally liable. The bill has already been given loud support by Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, signaling its signage into law and going into effect in July as inevitable.
Proponents of this bill have remained staunch in their stance that the bill is meant to give parents consent over what their [young] children are exposed to in schools — in this case, conversations about sexual orientation and/or a non-heteronormative gender experience. The belief is that children ages five to nine are incapable of understanding the concept of being LGBTQ+ and that such discussions are “inappropriate” for that age range.
It is ludicrous to believe that teachers are having any real conversations about any forms of sexual or gender identity in the classroom, specifically without parental consent. Actually, let me take a step backward. I teach kindergarten here in Philly. (Shoutout to Abbott Elementary.) Just last week, I read one of the books on my approved syllabus called Summer Sun Risin’. In it, a little boy is shown with his parents, his mother and his father, a man and a woman. I have not had to receive a single word of permission from anybody, not even my students’ parents, to read the book aloud. But God forbid If that book had any mention of two dads or two moms, I guarantee that I would have to send out permission slips, maybe get approval from my principal and maybe even sell my first unborn child just to get the book approved as an extra read-aloud.
I have stated it before: I am tired of children being used as scapegoats for the meritless concerns and, most times, the downright ignorance and hatred presented in the antics of adults. I am tired of the conjuring of what is deemed “age-appropriate” when it fits the narrative of being homoantagonistic, as if LGBTQ+ individuals are the ones eerily and inaccurately connecting all of this to sex [education].
Anything regarding sexuality, gender, love, marriage — hell, even childhood crushes — is just fine as long as it is heteronormative. However, this is not the world we live in; and if we want to be honest with ourselves, we have never lived in this world, not even in elementary-leveled classrooms. It is not a secret that children have self-identified as LGBTQ+ at elementary-level ages for decades. Damnit, I did. I knew I was gay at four years old, even if I did not yet fully understand or have a name for what I was feeling at the time. I have long been a part of the work being done making schools safer spaces for all kids because it is important.
This work remains to dismantle the belief that kids are incapable of seeing themselves for who they are or, at the very least, who they might be. Students deserve any adult who is both willing to and capable of helping them experience the world. And to take that possible connection away from teachers, who serve daily on the frontlines to protect them from the very same parents who may be endangering them, is violently irresponsible.
Doing this is not going to erase the fact that there are and always have been six and seven-year-old kids in schools who know they are “different.” There are now and there always have been kids raised in LGBTQ+ households. Are those kids not allowed to see themselves in their education? Are those kids not allowed to feel safe, free to ask questions and discuss internal feelings with a teacher they both know and trust? The answer appears to be a loud and resounding “no.” This frightens and angers me.
What is scarier to me is the notion that this could be applicable anywhere in the nation. What is happening in Florida, Texas and Idaho undoubtedly affect what is happening in my world as a teacher here in Philadelphia. I come to this conclusion witnessing the national erasure of progress in regards to things such as calls to remove Critical Race Theory from schools, Pride-flag removals, Black and/or LGBTQIA+ book bans and bills targeting transgender youth. All of this, as usual, is being done at the price of casualty of the most vulnerable of students. Kids, especially Black and LGBTQ+ kids, are going to be the ones that will still be unrepresented and ignored, suffering at the vain conquests of adults who have nothing to prove other than how loud their bigotry is. There is no genuine fear or concern; just hatred. If it could happen in Florida and Texas, it could happen anywhere.
If more children are given lesser outlets of support and see no other choice but to die by suicide — a rampant problem amongst LGBTQIA+ youth, including ones within the same age bracket (five to 11-years-old) that the bigwigs in Florida claim that they are trying to protect — there will be plenty of blame to go around. The blood of these precious, innocent beings will be on the hands of those who either sit idle/silent in the face of this outright tyranny or who vote in favor of it.
As exhausting as it is, I am comforted by those of us who carry on speaking out against the loud and irrational voices of useless dissent. Those Florida students who’ve been staging numerous walkouts across the state for the past week give me some glimmer of hope in a future better than this — one where egalitarian, white, and/or hetero and cisnormative leaders like DeSantis and Governor Greg Abbott in Texas will be a thing of the past. I believe there will be a time when laws like “Don’t Say Gay” don’t even enter public discourse, seen as a waste of time, energy and ink.
The work continues until the day when LGBTQ+ is not seen as wrong to discuss, but welcome to experience and to be.