Don’t Say Gay? Or Don’t Say Transgender?

Alanna Sherman , Columnist

Last month, the Parental Rights in Education bill, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was introduced and signed into law by Florida Governor Robert DeSantis. This bill prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.” Curtailing discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom is dangerous, as it prevents early access to healthcare, counseling and education. Ignoring the existence of LGBTQIA+ identities is harmful to the mental health of those in the community, especially youth.

Supporters of the bill believe it would give parents greater control over when and in what way topics such as gender and sexuality are introduced to their children. The bill also protects children from what supporters term, “ideological indoctrination,” a misnomer that incorrectly attributes gender and sexual orientation to ideology.

However, if we were really concerned about children’s access to self-expression, then wouldn’t we be absolutely horrified by the excessive visibility of cisgender heterosexuality in mainstream children’s media?

Supporters of these transphobic and homophobic policies express their fear of influencing or mis-influencing vulnerable children, arguing that open discussions of gender, sexuality and sex education are inappropriate and politically-motivated, and yet they fail to notice their own methods of indoctrinating gender and sexuality.

We produce norms by indoctrinating youth into cisgender and heterosexual identities through gendered clothing, strict rules on bathroom usage, gendered toys, extracurricular activities and encouraging heterosexuality from a very young age. Arguably limiting education and necessary resources for the LGBTQIA+ community is indoctrination in itself.

There are also many people who strongly condemn this bill, although the criticism appears to be largely centered around homophobia, as critics refer to the bill as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This term is slightly misleading. When you look a little closer at the bill’s contents, it becomes apparent that the bill’s largest concern is actually with gender education and preventing transgender youth from receiving healthcare, counseling and other necessary resources.

Florida is not the only state to propose similar bills. Alabama, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho and Ohio are all proposing bills criminalizing the transgender community and parents of trans youth through restricting healthcare and preventing education surrounding sexual and gender identity. Washington also proposed two transphobic bills this year regarding athletic activities in schools and the housing of people who are incarcerated in state correctional facilities.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that these bills are homophobic, but reading these bills you will quickly notice that they target gender identity much more than sexuality. I wonder why homophobia is at the center of conversation. Why are we calling this bill “Don’t Say Gay” if the main goal is to erase trans and non-binary communities by preventing necessary survival resources and throwing out any form of acknowledgment of trans existence?

It is important to address homophobia, but erasing transphobia by labeling them “Don’t Say Gay” bills not only spreads misinformation, but endangers those most affected by these bills. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is an attack on the entire LGBTQIA+ community, but it directly targets trans youth. Labeling this violence in a way that centers cisgender members of the community maintains and continues to perpetuate the same violence we claim to be fighting against.