Mentions of suicide and mental health impacts.
Florida passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill this year, which right-wing governor Ron DeSantis signed. The bill, referred to as the Parental Rights Education bill by Republicans prohibits any classroom education regarding sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to the third grade. It also prohibits any instruction deemed as “inappropriate.” The bill is so vague that it does not define the terms “age-appropriate,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “classroom instruction,” which has elicited concerns that the bill will suppress any acknowledgment of the LGBTQ+ community in schools.
What Is Wrong With the Ideas Behind This “Don’t Say Gay” Bill?
One part of the bill that especially doesn’t make sense is that discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity with kindergarteners to third graders aren’t “age-appropriate.” In actuality, children have been known to come out early on, or they have parents, siblings, or other relatives who identify along the LGBTQ+ spectrum. These topics are not inappropriate and are a regular life occurrence.
Many view this bill as unconstitutional, including The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality Florida, and families throughout Florida. They have filed a lawsuit against the bill.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is more than having teachers provide information to parents. It can encourage any anti-LGBTQ+ parent in any public school to enforce the bill. For example, the bill functions on private lawsuits for enforcement. It allows parents to file a lawsuit against their child’s school district to comply with the bill’s vague requirements. In addition, those parents can win money due to damages and “reasonable attorney fees” if they succeed in court.
Lawsuits are costly to defend against, especially when defendants need to pay for their lawyers and opponents. So, when DeSantis likely signs this bill into law, school districts will need to be strict and shut down any discussion related to sexual orientation or gender identity because they could be at risk for expensive litigation.
How Does This Type of Legislation Harm a Person’s Mental and Physical Health?
First of all, this bill negatively impacts a person’s mental and physical health. For example, the fact that a person’s identity can become the subject of this debate is incredibly dehumanizing, encourages stigma, and creates stress. It can have especially dire consequences for younger students in elementary school since these young people may not understand why this is all happening.
In addition, discriminatory laws like this bill can impact mental health and increase suicide rates among LGBTQ+ people. Since mental health can connect to physical health, the consequences of this bill could also lead to headaches, sleep issues, and changes in eating.
Stressed children may also experience social implications, like withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities. They may have trouble concentrating, see a decline in their academic performance, or engage in behaviors that occur in children at a younger age. When it comes to teenagers dealing with this kind of stress, they may become more susceptible to substance use and have suicidal ideation or attempts.
Other Adverse Impacts on Youth
Legislation like this bill can also have adverse effects on young people’s mental health already at risk. For example, LGBTQ+ young people are experiencing higher rates of suicide than their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. In addition, it serves to erase LGBTQ+ identities, which can be damaging to young people. Having to exist in a place like a school where discriminatory rules are put into place can create a lot of stress and cause adverse mental and physical health impacts.
When it is implied that a person can’t discuss their gender identity or sexuality or anyone else’s in a classroom setting, this person may think their identity is wrong or something wrong with them in general. Being able to share your true self or talk about your family is essential to the well-being of young people. When you take that away, you tell a child that they should feel shame, something is wrong with them, and that their identities should be erased. These notions are catastrophic for child development and can be harmful.
What Resources Are Out There to Help Young LGBTQ+ People?
One excellent resource that is helping young LGBTQ+ people is Equality Florida. It is the largest civil rights organization fighting for equality for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community.
Another resource that can help is the Trevor Project. They have trained counselors available 24/7. You can reach out to them at 1-866-488-7386 by phone, chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or text the word START to 678678. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth can connect through the safe space social networking site, TrevorSpace.
At LGBTQ AND ALL, we have many resources and tools that can benefit young LGBTQ+ people worldwide. Be sure to navigate our site if you’re looking for resources and help when coping with the mental health impacts of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Young people can also speak to their pediatrician or talk with a mental health counselor when they are in distress. These health care professionals must be LGBTQ+-friendly.
Another way that people can help and be good allies is by speaking out against laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. You can contact your representatives, have conversations with people in your community, and be vocal about any injustices.
It is necessary to provide love and support to LGBTQ+ children and youth struggling with the consequences of this anti-LGBTQ+ bill.
In Summary to “Don’t Say Gay” Bill
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of young LGBTQ+ people. The bill itself is too vague, creating more silencing of discussion around LGBTQ+ issues.