Don't Say Gay: Restricting the First Amendment
The first amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Americans take pride in these rights – especially in their freedom of speech. The United States is relatively lucky, as most countries do not have freedom of speech. We saw that recently with Russia; the topic of Ukraine isn’t very popular over there right now.
On March 28, 2022, that first amendment was challenged, and taken away, by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. That Monday, DeSantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have successfully labeled the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
As stated by supporters of the law, it is meant to allow parents to determine when and where they want to introduce their children to the LGBTQ+ community. However, this stance upfront only has advantages for heterosexual couples. The Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case in 2015 ruled same-sex marriage legal by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
According to a 2018 census, over 114,000 same-sex couples are raising children in the U.S., which means they have children going to school and also need to have a say in their education.
This law bans the instruction or classroom discussion about everything surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and issues in grades kindergarten through third grade. Grades fourth through twelfth have similar, but not quite as targeted rules. While students past third grade are allowed to have discussions and instruction about LGBTQ+ issues, any discussion surrounding the issues must be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” This description is so broad, however, that the government gets to determine what is and what isn’t age and developmentally appropriate, without telling schools what those restrictions are.
In Florida, the state has already banned sex education until the fifth grade, which makes some wonder why put a law into place for a problem that isn’t there? The limitations on LGBTQ+ classroom discussions could have a big mental impact on younger students, and their discovery of their own gender or sexual identities. It also puts a huge damper on the teachers and instructors. Are they allowed to talk about their partners? Are they even
allowed to use pronouns? One teacher started using they/them pronouns for their students and asked their students to use the title Mx. when referring to them, instead of Mr. or Mrs., so as to avoid gendered pronouns like he/him or she/her, in compliance with the new law.
Another huge issue with this law is that it allows parents to sue schools over almost anything they don’t like or don’t approve of, and the school has to pay for it. This could scare schools into removing certain materials from their curriculum, or even libraries. Reports have already come in from librarians stating that their schools are taking books from their libraries relating to race and LGBTQ+ issues, attempting to stop conflict before it happens. Poorer schools can’t afford to be sued, so many of them will fall in line to avoid it.
Many supporters of the law have villainized those who don’t support the law, including Governor DeSantis, who stated in a FOX interview, “[t]hey have to lie because if they admitted what they were really for, sexualizing kindergartners… they would know that would
not fly with the public.” Many other Republicans have taken up the narrative that any who oppose the law are supporters of pedophilia. DeSantis said in a press conference before the signing of the bill that teaching students in kindergarten “they can be whatever they want to be” was “inappropriate” for children.
On Thursday, March 31, gay-rights activists sued the state of Florida, arguing that the law violates freedom of speech, equal protection, and due process of students and their families. As mentioned previously, there are many students in the U.S. who have same-sex parents, and there is an abundance of youth who question their sexuality and gender. With this law, students can’t talk to their teachers about their parents or any questions and concerns they have regarding their own identities. Preventing students from talking about their sexual and gender identities will lead to an even larger decrease in mental health than there already is. The mental health of Gen Z is much worse than previous generations, and they’re reporting it.
Florida is not the only state who is looking into the law. While Florida has already signed the bill into law, other states include Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, New Jersey, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. All of these states have looked into similar laws, some of them a lot farther into the past than you might realize. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills are nothing new, but they are getting more popular.
Written by Alix Moreland
*Disclaimer: This article does not in any way reflect the views of Greenwood High School or the Paw Print journalism club.*