The LGBTQ+ community is experiencing wide-reaching attacks from state governments, with most proposed and passed legislation focusing on LGBTQ+ youth. News is Out explores what’s happening, how it’s affecting LGBTQ+ students and families, and what to do in the face of continued discrimination.
Where we stand now: Bay Area Reporter
As conservative states around the country introduce and pass anti-LGBTQ+ laws, Florida took the spotlight March 28 when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
House Bill 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” will not allow classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, while “age-appropriate” teaching would be allowed in older grades — though it is not clear what is considered “age-appropriate,” as the Washington Blade reported. The bill would also allow parents to sue schools or teachers who violate the legislation. It goes into effect July 1.
But while the Sunshine State has garnered most of the recent headlines, it is hardly the only one where lawmakers have targeted LGBTQ+ students, especially trans or gender-nonconforming individuals. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Iowa recently became the first state in the country that had passed statewide non-discrimination protections that include LGBTQ+ people to reverse course by prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to a news release from the national LGBTQ+ rights organization.
And Ohio state representatives recently introduced their own version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, HRC noted in a news release. It would go further than previous efforts in other states and expands censorship of classroom discussion for K-12 students that touch on sexual orientation, gender identity, or the history of racial discrimination in the United States and the work done to move toward equality, HRC stated.
Less than halfway into the year, HRC said it is tracking 583-plus pieces of potentially LGBTQ+-related legislation introduced in the 2022 state legislative session. Of those, at least 313 are classified as harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, and 137-plus are specifically anti-transgender bills.
In a new assault on the LGBTQ+ community, some Republican conservatives are now employing the terms “grooming” and “pedophilia” in reference to everything from pro-LGBTQ+ curriculum to Democrats’ support for the queer community.
“Democrats are the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophile politics,” Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia) tweeted April 6.
Shannon Minter, a trans man and the longtime legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, sounded the alarm over this new culture war tactic.
“It is terrifying. It’s a five-alarm fire for our community,” Minter said in a recent phone interview. “It’s the most vicious stereotype of LGBTQ+ people. He added that using the word grooming harkens back to the time when gays and lesbians were portrayed as trying to ‘recruit’ children, a specious claim that led to “the public wrongly and falsely [seeing] LGBTQs as deviants.”
“It’s the kind of lie that can scar a young person developing their sense of self and self-worth,” Minter said.
As the Bay Area Reporter and other outlets have reported, Texas is also at the forefront of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ laws. On Feb. 22, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sent a letter to the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, calling on the agency to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the state of Texas.” The letter followed an opinion issued the previous week by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), in which he equated treatment for trans kids with child abuse. Both political leaders are up for reelection this year.
One gay state lawmaker in California is attempting to turn the tables on this anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
In March, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill that would help out-of-state trans kids and their families if they come to California to escape the harsh reach of government in their states.
“We know other red states will, no doubt, be considering these bills as well,” Wiener told the crowd at a March 17 news conference outside the Capitol in Sacramento after referencing Texas and Idaho. As soon as one state considers adopting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, “they all copy each other and it spreads like wildfire around the country.”
Such legislation, he added, “means death for transgender kids.”
Wiener’s bill, as planned, will primarily address several concerns.
It would reject any out-of-state court judgments removing trans kids from their parents’ custody based on the parents allowing their kids to receive gender-affirming health care, per California public policy, and prevent those judgments from being enforced in California courts. Families who come to California will be protected from having their trans children taken away.
The proposal would declare it “California’s public policy that any out-of-state criminal arrest warrant for someone, based on violating another state’s law against receiving gender-affirming care, is the lowest priority for law enforcement in California.”
In a recent phone interview, Wiener put blame for the increasingly incendiary rhetoric used by far-right Republicans squarely on QAnon, the unfounded conspiracy theory that alleges former President Donald Trump was engaged in a struggle with an international cabal of sex traffickers, including prominent Hollywood actors and Democratic politicians. (Wiener himself was targeted by QAnon adherents two years ago when he carried a bill that ends discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ+ young adults faced with registering as sex offenders; Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law.)
“Basically, QAnon itself is in sort of bad shape but won in that it infected the entire Republican Party,” Wiener said. “It’s now mainstream in Republican circles to talk about this — anything LGBTQ is pro-grooming.”
What’s motivating legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ youth?: Washington Blade
This rapid advancement of state legislation targeting LGBTQ+ youth has opponents in an uproar denouncing the measures as attacks made for political gain ahead of the 2022 midterms.
But a look at public opinion, demographic trends, and Republican messaging around “parental rights” reveals a more complicated landscape for the legislation, much of which targets transgender youth.
The flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ bills includes measures aimed at restricting access by youth to transition-related care, in some cases penalizing medical providers for providing such services with prison time; legislation banning transgender kids from competing in girls’ sports consistent with their gender identity; and measures like the “Don’t Say Gay” bills that essentially prevent teachers in grade schools from even acknowledging LGBTQ+ people exist.
Supporters of the LGBTQ+ community assert the motivations behind them are nothing but an attempt to score points with a conservative base ahead of the congressional midterm elections in November.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly LGBTQ+ person to win Senate confirmation to a Cabinet-level role, made such observations when asked to respond to comments made by anti-LGBTQ+ Rep. Taylor Greene.
“This is part of a very familiar political playbook,” Buttigieg told Yahoo News. “And I think the reason that this playbook is being pulled off the shelf is you have a lot of folks who don’t have actual plans for the things that are affecting so much of everyday life. They’re looking for somebody to target, to change the subject to these culture wars. And they’re really doubling down on these culture wars. … At the end of the day, they’re busy worrying about which books to ban and we’re here trying to figure out which bridges to fix.”
Echoing the view that the bills are politically motivated was White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who became emotional in a recent podcast interview when asked about the legislation. “The political games and harsh and cruel attempts at laws, or laws that we’re seeing in some states like Florida, that is not a reflection of the country moving to oppose LGBTQ+ communities,” Psaki said. “This is a political wedge issue, and an attempt to win a culture war.”
The legislative attacks on queer youth come when a growing number of youth are identifying as LGBTQ+. According to a recent Gallup poll, a full 21% of Generation Z Americans identify as LGBTQ+, many of whom are increasingly identifying as bisexual. In that context, conservative lawmakers are stoking fears about the change and positioning the Republican Party as concerned about “parental rights.”
One component of the “Don’t Say Gay” measure in Florida, for example, requires schools to notify parents about changes in mental state or health issues.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s prohibition on school instruction on LGBTQ+ issues for grades K-3 or vaguely in settings “not age appropriate” is consistent with the controversy over banning books in school libraries with LGBTQ+ content.
Many such books, such as “Tango Makes Three,” the story of two same-sex penguins adopting and raising a new chick, have been around for years and banned in libraries for doing nothing other than promoting LGBTQ+ visibility. But some books in the most recent round of controversies contain some sexually explicit material, which has inspired objections from parents and provided fodder for conservative pundits to make the case school officials are out of touch.
Similarly, the wave of measures seeking to bar access to transition-related care for youth, including legislation recently signed into law by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) criminalizing such treatment and an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declaring it child abuse, comes at a time when a growing number of teens are identifying as transgender and non-binary.
Supporters of the treatment for teens say prescribing interventions such as puberty blockers have demonstrated immediate positive effects and can be reversible in the event a youth changes their mind. But not all experts agree that is the right approach for teenagers, who notoriously experience anxiety about their bodies as they go through sexual maturity.
The vast majority of bills advancing in state legislatures, however, seek to bar transgender youth from participating in girls’ sports consistent with their gender identity. According to the Movement Advancement Project, a total of 15 states now have laws barring the participation of transgender kids in girls’ sports.
Polls on these measures have been inconsistent, sometimes wildly so. Public Opinion Strategy, a Republican pollster, found when individuals were read the operative language of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, they supported it 61-26%; the poll was touted prominently by the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. But an earlier poll by ABC News resulted in the exact opposite result: respondents opposed the Florida law 62-37%; that poll didn’t include the full language of the bill.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ rights supporters working to fight the legislation assert the measures are motivated by politics and animosity toward LGBTQ+ people.
Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation, said the inspiration for the legislation “is anti-LGBTQ+ animus, plain and simple” as politicians seek to score points ahead of the election.
“Politicians are pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to secure the loyalty of their shared extremist base, even if it puts the youngest and most vulnerable in the LGBTQ+ community at risk,” Hutchins said.
The attacks on trans youth are not limited to the legislature. The Florida Department of Health on April 20 announced that children younger than 18 should be barred from receiving gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, hormones, and name/pronoun changes.
“Gov. DeSantis is once again putting political propaganda over science and the safety of young people,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
History of LGBTQ+ issues in schools: Philadelphia Gay News
Historically, legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ youth are not a new phenomena. As more LGBTQ+ secondary school students came out publicly in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so too did opposition to both their increased visibility and their choice to come out at all. Such opposition often took the form of campaigns to restrict LGBTQ+ students’ abilities to organize, as was the case for several gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
The first GSAs in the country, which started with Concord Academy in Massachusetts in 1988 under the leadership of Kevin Jennings — a gay man who went on the found the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) — served several purposes: to combat homophobia, to act as a support group for LGBTQ+ students, and to spread awareness on LGBTQ+ issues.
“The 1980s were a time of silence and invisibility,” Concord Academy teacher Nancy Boutilier said in an article celebrating the GSA’s 30th anniversary. “GSAs allowed kids who were questioning to attend meetings and not feel stigmatized. The forging of this model was an enormous game changer, and [Concord Academy] was a pioneer.”
In the late ‘90s, several GSAs were targeted by school administrators seeking to prevent the clubs from forming, meeting on campus, and/or discussing LGBTQ+ issues. Such efforts included, in many cases, banning all non-curricular student groups, forcing GSAs to change their names, and denying them entry into school yearbooks. Judges in several cases, including those involving East High in Salt Lake City and El Modena High School in Orange County, California, found that students were protected by the first amendment and the Federal Equal Access Act, which mandates that federally funded secondary schools provide equal access to extracurricular student clubs. Legal cases involving administrators denying students’ ability to form GSAs have occurred as recently as 2018.
As students, teachers, and administrators worked to increase LGBTQ+ visibility in school populations, another issue — LGBTQ+ representation in textbooks and curriculums — also took shape. While some individual schools and school districts had been teaching LGBTQ+ history, either in the classroom or through GSA meetings, it was not until 2011, after a multi-year effort, that California became the first state to pass a law that LGBTQ+ history be taught in schools. The state followed up the milestone by being the first to mandate LGBTQ+-inclusive history textbooks in 2017. Then, starting in 2019, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Illinois, Nevada, and Connecticut also passed legislation requiring LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculums.
For New Jersey’s efforts, the advocacy group Garden State Equality created an interdisciplinary curriculum for the state that went beyond history and social sciences but also included LGBTQ+ representation in math and science curricula, such as including a husband and a husband in word problems involving families.
However, just as many school districts rebelled against the idea of GSAs, so too did state legislatures try to limit the ability to teach LGBTQ+ history and inclusion in schools. Starting in the early ‘90s, states including Arizona and Texas began to introduce laws dubbed “No Promo Homo,” which sought to cull discussion on homosexuality as it related to HIV/AIDS. General discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom was also banned in many states. While many states repealed such laws over time, currently Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida have laws on the books.
In addition to the challenges faced in organizing clubs and seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum, LGBTQ+ students have historically faced threats of physical violence and discrimination from fellow students, teachers, and administrators. Trans students, in particular, have faced issues unique to gender identity, including, but not limited to, the use of school bathrooms.
At the beginning of the school year in 2014, Gavin Grimm, a trans male student at Gloucester High School in Virginia, approached school officials with concerns that using the nurse’s bathroom — which Grimm had initially decided to use to avoid bullying — was not working.
“Because many of my classes are located quite far from the nurse’s office,” Grimm said in a 2014 article for the American Civil Liberties Union, “trekking back and forth took a good amount of time away from classroom instruction. But what’s more, the experience was humiliating. It was a glaring reminder of my differences, one that caused me significant discomfort every time I had to use the restroom.”
At first, the school allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom, but in December 2014, the county school board voted that students had to use the bathroom that aligned with their biological sex. Grimm filed a federal lawsuit in 2015, and a federal appeals court ruled in his favor, which prompted the school board to appeal to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the case. The case had to be re-litigated, however, when the Obama administration ended and the Trump administration reversed the Obama-era support for trans students. It took until 2022 for the Supreme Court to decline the case, which meant a victory for Grimm, who had long since graduated high school.
However, the court’s decision did not grant nationwide protections for trans students, but only trans students in states in the 4th Circuit, which includes Grimm’s home state of Virginia. Such piecemeal protections — for issues that have not been federally codified and have not received a ruling from the Supreme Court — have become standard for LGBTQ+ issues including housing, public accommodations, and many student-related issues.
Thus far in 2022, state lawmakers have proposed a record number of bills that seek to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, including youth.
Students and teachers in Southern and red states already feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQ+ laws: Dallas Voice
Here in Texas, Republican lawmakers last year finally managed to push through legislation to “protect” girls’ sports in schools from transgender students, although it took them three special sessions to do it. Gov. Abbott signed the measure in October.
Texas was again in the spotlight at the end of February after Abbott’s directive ordering the State Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate families and health care professionals providing gender-affirming health services to children.
A judge has issued an injunction halting the investigations as a legal challenge makes its way through the courts. But Abbott is not backing down.
In Irving, Texas, the new principal at MacArthur High School last fall decided to protect students by having “Safe Space” stickers removed from classrooms and other areas in the school. Principal Natasha Stewart, who had the stickers removed without notifying anyone beforehand, claimed the whole campus was a safe space, and the stickers made it seem as if students wouldn’t be safe outside those specific classrooms. When two teachers, including LGBTQ+ teacher Rachel Stonecipher, questioned her, Stewart had them both removed from the classroom. Stonecipher was transferred to teach at the school district’s disciplinary school and has said she expects to be fired at the end of the school year.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has declared that he will make legislation similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law a priority for the Texas Legislature in 2023, and GOP lawmakers around the country are proposing, passing and enacting such bills — all in the name of protecting the children.
The children, however, feel anything but safe and protected.
“Frankly, I’m scared,” said Devin N., a student at an Austin-area high school who requested that his last name not be published. “Anti-queer legislation sort of seemed like something I wouldn’t have to deal with anymore. I assumed after 2014 we would just continue moving forward. But as of now, it feels more like one step forward, three steps back.
Kaitlyn N., who identifies as queer nonbinary, is on the award-winning speech and debate team at their high school. Every day when they walk into the classroom, they said, “we have something else to [talk about in terms of] new laws or bills being passed that affect us directly. With the new anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ laws that are being passed in other states, usually my fellow LGBTQ+ friends or allies in debate come in with a lot to say as we don’t have the chance to discuss these topics in other classes. We talk about what is bothering us and how that affects us as well as how we can help the current situation.”
Kaitlyn said that, as a nonbinary queer teen, “seeing the recent attacks on education in schools has impacted me extensively. … Another one of my safe spaces is being attacked by lawmakers who have never been in my position.” They also asked that their last name not be published.
Because they aren’t old enough to vote, they said, they feel that their freedoms and their rights are being repressed. At 17, Kaitlyn said, “I should be able to decide if I want to learn something, especially if the thing I am learning is an accurate and historically correct retelling of history. I personally believe that the attack on critical race theory is just another way for lawmakers to disguise their disgust for the LGBTQ community, and I’m sick of a country that is known for being ‘accepting’ taking away my freedom to play sports, learn about my history, have access to medical care and just be who I want to be.”
Kirsten N. teaches at the school Devin and Kaitlyn attend. She asked that her full name not be used to protect her students and herself from right-wing groups that have already targeted them at least once.
“I think that many of our LGBTQ students, especially, feel like Texas is not a place for them,” Kirsten said. “Unfortunately, many feel like they will have to leave the state in order to feel included, protected, validated, and loved. It is a very sad position to be in, to feel like the place you call home doesn’t want you or considers your mere existence to be a ‘sin’ or an ‘accident’ or a crime.”
The teachers also are feeling the pressure and are considering leaving — the state, and sometimes the profession. Kirsten said while she is “fortunate to teach in a district where I do not feel personally targeted or like the board and/or parents are out to get us,” she has peers teaching in “more right-leaning districts” who have received threats and who have students “actively ‘spying’ on them, documenting their words and reporting back to parents.”
Teachers, she said, “are already pretty beat down by society. But this past year has felt like we are vilified at every turn. This is so disheartening, on multiple levels.”
The significant impact on Black, POC and marginalized voices: Windy City Times
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law threatens to bear down especially hard on that state’s LGBTQ+ Black, Indigenous, and people of color students. These students, many of whom are already marginalized thanks to socioeconomic challenges in their communities, now find themselves at the frontlines of political turmoil instigated by politicians pandering to conservative constituents.
Various states, meanwhile, have introduced measures specifically targeting transgender students. Alabama Gov. Ivey, for example, signed bills on April 8 requiring transgender students to use restrooms of their gender assigned at birth and outlawing the use of hormones and puberty blockers to treat persons under 19.
Experts say that BIPOC LGBTQ+ students will likely shoulder the largest burden from the right’s obsession with schools. Both BIPOC students and LGBTQ+ students, when measured as discrete communities, are at significantly higher risks of mental health complications. For students whose identities intersect with both communities, those risks are even higher.
According to a 2020 joint report published by GLSEN and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), 51.6% of Black LGBTQ+ students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation; 40.2% because of their gender identity; and 30.6% because of their race or ethnicity. The report also mentioned that Black LGBTQ+ students were more likely to experience anti-LGBTQ+ school disciplinary practices.
Tatiana Williams — executive director of the Wilton Manors, Florida-based advocacy Transinclusive Group — said that the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was developed through a “lens of privilege” that, beyond its inherent callousness, ignored the needs of Florida’s BIPOC LGBTQ+ students.
“They put [transgender people] all in one bucket—and you can’t put us all into one bucket,” Williams said. “You have to factor in the socio-economic aspects.”
Williams said that, while families of means can presumably access private health services for LGBTQ+ children, many Black families don’t have access to resources needed when their child comes out somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In those cases, the school is where the student often turns for both services and camaraderie.
LGBTQ+ BIPOC students quite frequently have found refuge at school, since interactions with like-minded peers are less fraught than their lives at home should their families not be accepting, said Regina Livingston, founder of the Gainesville, Florida-based advocacy Unspoken Treasure Society.
“Right now, there are students panicking,” added Livingston. “[Those students] are trying to hide that from home.”
Part of responsibly serving LGBTQ+ BIPOC students is guiding them to resources that they might not have access to in their immediate community, noted Grecia Magdaleno, policy and advocacy manager for Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, which oversees the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, a program engaging schools and students on LGBTQ+ issues.
“So often class gets involved,” Magdaleno added. “With students who are queer, we often encounter them in Title 1 schools where a lot of them are working class, and oftentimes when they are working class, they are often people of color. What I’ve been seeing is that a lot of our work is offering resources that are ‘on the ground’ and even about survival—finding mutual aid groups where they can access food and where they can go to youth-serving organizations that provide circles and groups that they can tap into for support.”
Indeed activists and students regard the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, though aimed at younger children, as a warning shot against all school-age students and their families. Livingston predicted “deeper depression” and “more suicides” among Floridian young people. “Students don’t know who they can talk to anymore.”
Williams said the “Don’t Say Gay” rules portend a time when a Black LGBTQ+ student can’t turn to a guidance counselor or service provider if school officials are officially barred from speaking about matters pertaining to gender identity or sexual orientation.
“People start to develop and feel things at a very young age,” Williams said, recalling an incident when a student was accosted since her class wanted to know why she had two mothers when called upon to discuss her family. Under the new law, a teacher would not be able to provide a helpful explanation: “She can’t express anything about that, or even speak about that.”
Several states in recent years have gone the other direction on the political spectrum. In a report released March 22, U.S. News and World Report cited Colorado as being the most LGBTQ+ student-friendly. In 2019, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Inclusive Curriculum Bill, which mandated that LGBTQ+ history be integrated into the state’s classrooms.
But even in blue states, legislators regularly introduce legislation clamping down on the rights of LGBTQ+ students for political capital if not legislative results.
In Illinois, a state with both a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislative supermajority, three Republican-backed bills ostensibly calling for transparency rules easing public objections against curriculum materials were introduced in the House earlier this year. All were referred to the House Rules Committee in mid-February, where they languished and died.
Livingston lamented the passage of “Don’t Say Gay” and said that families, allies, and advocates have no choice but to work to vote out the politicians who introduced the law and provide LGBTQ+ BIPOC students with safe spaces in which to thrive. Unspoken Treasure Society, her organization, is preparing to reopen gathering spots—closed for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic—in Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Ocala.
“The world needs love right now—not hate,” Livingston said.
Teachers and students say ‘Don’t Say Gay’ shows a need for a cultural shift for LGBTQ+ youth: Tagg Magazine
For LGBTQ+ educators and students, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is bigger than a one-state legislative decision — it’s life or death.
Opponents of the law say it will damage the mental health of LGBTQ+ students, parents, and teachers. LGBTQ+ youth who report having an LGBTQ+-affirming space are significantly less likely to attempt suicide, according to The Trevor Project.
Nicole Frankel, who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, is a second-grade teacher in New Jersey. Though she is states away from Florida’s legislation, she still thinks it’s important that all educators stay alert.
“For some students, bills like these could be life or death,” Frankel said. “Because if a trans child doesn’t feel seen, or [a] queer child doesn’t feel seen, they could end up getting seriously bullied.”
The Trevor Project, based in Los Angeles, found in 2020 that 86% of LGBTQ youth felt recent politics negatively impacted their wellbeing.
Amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, the Massachusetts-based Queer Youth Assemble organized a national walkout on March 11, empowering thousands of students to protest “Don’t Say Gay.” While protesting is a powerful tool, 20-year-old QYA co-founder Esmée Silverman, a trans woman, said there needs to be just as much of an emphasis on promoting queer joy in times like this.
“What we want to do is take back that narrative,” Silverman said. “And sure, it may sound a little bit radical when we say queer youth autonomy … but at the end of the day, we’re the ones who are taking that power back from that conversation.”
Sixteen-year-old nonbinary student Alia Cusolito led the walkout at their school in Rochester, Massachusetts. Cusolito said that Americans, LGBTQ+ or not and in Florida or not, need to pay attention and realize how the bill directly impacts youth.
“I have friends in Texas who are afraid of what could happen to their family,” Cusolito said. “I have friends in Florida who are worried about going to school and not being able to talk about who they are.”
When the bill passed, Frankel and her colleagues thought, “What if that happened here?” She said it would take away a large portion of the material she teaches.
A misconception about gender and sexuality education is that it’s instructing young children how to be transgender or how to have gay sex. Dani Glass, a preschool teacher from Chicago, said it’s simply talking about family structure — some kids might have two moms or two dads. It also demystifies gender stereotypes like boys playing with trucks and girls playing with dolls.
Frankel said there’s more to mentioning gay or trans than simply that identity.
“When we read about a gay character, or a trans character or queer character, it’s not always just about [being gay],” Frankel said. “It’s just sprinkling in representation, wherever we can, to help students who may be the same way feel seen and feel represented, but also to help everyone else be more inclusive and accepting of their classmates and the people around them.”
Glass believes it’s crucial for teachers to realize the culture shift that needs to happen in the wake of this legislation.
“As an early childhood educator, I see how capable children are of understanding concepts and topics that people think are too difficult for them,” Glass said. “And really far, far, far too often, children aren’t given the credit that they deserve when it comes to understanding the nuances of identity.”
How to push back against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on all levels: Q Voice News
Will Larkins thought it was time for a history less, a gay history lesson.
In early April, just days after DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, Larkins, a 17-year-old junior at Winter Park High School and president of the Queer Student Union, took a stand.
Because teaching LGBTQ+ history is not part of Florida’s education curriculum, Larkins took it upon themselves and went to the head of the class. In a red dress and pearls, Larkins, who identifies as gay and nonbinary and uses they/him/her pronouns, discussed the Stonewall Uprising with classmates in their U.S. history class.
A friend recorded a 32-second video of Larkins’ presentation, which went viral on Twitter with more than 470,000 views and 26,000 likes.
Larkin used the hashtag #SayGayAnyway.
In the days following the queer history lesson, Larkins, who has helped organize student walkouts, protests, and voter registration drives at Winter Park, said on their Twitter page they were transferred to another history class.
Winter Park High officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
Larkins’ endeavors show how K-12 LGBTQ+ students are resisting the latest attacks on them from state lawmakers and school districts.
It’s one of many ways the LGBTQ+ community can respond.
Some advocacy groups encourage people to be proactive and have policies on the books that protect LGBTQ+ students.
At the same time, Alison Gash, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, says the LGBTQ+ community needs to understand that anti-LGBTQ+ activists already have a system in place to help them succeed.
“Conservatives have been very good at understanding the pipeline of politics and policy. They picked up on it way before Democrats,” Gash said. “Developing a pipeline of candidates and institutional support systems, from the dog catcher to a senator, was critical to make sure you could set up situations where their agenda items were secured at every level of government.”
Also, Gash says the latest actions in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere are just the latest attempts from social conservatives that follow a 50-year-old playbook. It’s a different decade and different target, but the same agenda.
“This isn’t new. It goes back to segregation. It’s a template and a playbook,” Gash said. “It’s the same argument — white cis-gendered children will somehow be sullied if they are exposed to fill in the blank: Black children, trans issues, sex education, gay children.
“Florida has been a leader in this action,” Gash said. “It was the birthplace of Save our Children with Anita Bryant (in the 1970s).”
But in the end, Gash said, it’s not about saving the children. It’s about power.
“There are a lot of officials, once they get into office, who are just focused on centralized power for a particular party,” she said. “It’s not about the kids or issues. It’s about galvanizing their base and holding onto power.”
As some members of the LGBTQ+ community ask themselves, What do we do? How do we prevent these efforts from happening?, Gash offers several suggestions.
- “Start playing the long game, especially in states where they can,” Gash said. “Be the wedge or swing vote in a space where it could be useful.”
- “Some Republicans are not swayed by these bills. Seek out the people who can be swayed and make personal appeals,” Gash said. “The personal interactions make the difference.”
- “Look at the small spaces, school boards and schools,” she said. “Who is the librarian? How can you support the librarian? What pressures are they under? Who are the teachers who are allies?”
- “You want to focus on your allies on the front lines. Those are the people who need the support,” Gash said. “They need groups and incentives to stay allies. It’s a witch hunt out there.”
Speaking of libraries, in Gillette, Wyoming, the Campbell County Public Library was “blindsided” by some local county commissioners and members of MassResistance.
For more than four months last year, starting in July, the group attended county commission and library board meetings.
They claimed the library was actively corrupting youth, “trying to divert and confuse teens,” and “sowing seeds of suicide, drug addiction, domestic violence and drug abuse” with its books.
PFLAG Gillette President Karin Ebertz happened to show up at one county commission meeting. When she heard the comments about banning books and the LGBTQ+ community, Ebertz put aside her prepared remarks on a separate topic and defended the library’s material, explaining how it benefits the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.
PFLAG Gillette also organized pro-library rallies and spoke out at various meetings.
“We felt blindsided,” said Jovan Lewis, a PFLAG Gillette member and a youth services specialist at the library. “Gillette is a loving place, even though some voices were yelling very loudly.”
Eventually, 55 formal challenges were submitted by 17 different people, covering 29 books. In the end, two books were moved from the teen section into the adult graphic novel area.
For Lewis, the ordeal influenced her to take a more active role in PFLAG and help defend the library.
“I wanted to be a better advocate. I didn’t participate in a lot of stuff. I was not very involved,” she said.
“I work in the children’s department. I can be more a part of the solution. I have no regrets,” Lewis said.
For the moment, things are quiet, Lewis said. They haven’t had any new book challenges. But two commissioners’ seats are open in the June election.
“It feels like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Lewis said. “We are still fighting the good fight.”
This has been a joint report by member publications of News is Out
- Where we stand: Cynthia Laird, Bay Area Reporter
- What’s motivating legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ youth?: Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
- Students and teachers in Southern and red states already feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQ+ laws: Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice
- History of LGBTQ+ issues in schools: Jason Villemez, Philadelphia Gay News
- Advocates: Students of color to shoulder extra burdens from anti-LGBTQ+ laws: Matthew Simonette, Windy City Times
- Teachers and Students Say ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Shows a Need for Culture Shift for LGBTQ+ Youth: Clare Mulroy, Tagg Magazine
- Pushing back against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at all levels: Phillip Zonkel, Q Voice News
- Edited by Dana Piccoli and Penny Riordan