Some of the country’s most well-known educators are speaking out against Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, and a growing number of LGBTQ educators and supporters throughout the country are concerned about the impact this and similar legislation might have on kids.
House Bill 1557, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by detractors, prevents teachers from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, or in older grades in “a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
Willie Carver, Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year for 2022, drafted an open letter condemning policies that put “politics, misconceptions, teacher comfort, and other concepts above the needs of students,” which was signed by more than 200 teachers who have been honored by their state as a current or former Teacher of the Year. About 50 states and territories are included among the signatories.
An excerpt from the letter states that they “stand firmly against any practice or legislation that silences or opposes references to LGBTQIA+ people or to their access to care, such as is occurring in Florida and Texas.”
Carver told CBS News, “There’s a whole host of bills that are very problematic. Florida’s is the most brazen. It is very specifically outlawing what it calls ‘discussions,’ which is a pretty vague term, of LGBTQ people through third grade.”
Despite the fact that Kentucky has yet to implement such laws, Carver believes it is having a harmful impact on pupils.
“I think the first thing that I’m seeing is a lot of heartache and a lot of fear,” Carver said. “School is, for many of them, the singular place where they can experience any modicum of freedom to be their authentic self or even to try to figure out what their authentic self is.”
Carver is a teacher at Montgomery County High School in rural Kentucky, where he teaches English and French. He is homosexual and serves as the faculty adviser for Open Light, a student-run organization that advocates for LGBTQ students. Carver says he didn’t feel safe as a kid, so he now works to make pupils feel appreciated and empowered to speak up.
“There’s a thirst for advocacy, for others and for themselves,” Carver said. “What has inspired me over the years generally, and what I’ve seen specifically happening in this case, is they (the kids) want to help. They want to write letters. They want to prevent it from happening here. The kids have asked, to whom do we address our letters? Whom do we speak to?”
Although Jonté Lee, a nationally respected high school science teacher in Washington, D.C., was not engaged in the letter’s writing, he agrees with its sentiments. He claims that today’s youngsters are accustomed to seeing LGBTQ representation in the media and discussing these issues outside of school.
“The major networks have TV shows with LGBTQ characters,” Lee told CBS News. “The movies have it. They see that, so are you now going as far as to ban everything? You can’t.”
After graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2003, Lee came out. There was only one homosexual male image in the public media at the time that Lee associated with. When “America’s Next Top Model” debuted on UPN that year, fans like Lee were introduced for the first time to Jay Manuel, the show’s creative director.
“It said something to me,” Lee recalled. “You can be professional. Being gay and professional is possible.”
Lee has become a role model for over two decades. The Department of Defense recognized the chemistry and physics instructor a STEM Ambassador for converting his kitchen into a virtual chemistry lab during the epidemic.
Even though the term “gay” does not exist in Florida’s measure, which was just enacted by the state legislature, educators like Lee are concerned about the limitations on what may be spoken. He believes the measure will not stifle kids’ curiosity.
“The law cannot stop this. They have the internet, they can Google anything that they want,” he said. “Saying, ‘Oh, let’s not have it in the schools’ — you think that’s going to stop kids from being curious and looking it up?”
Moreover, he says, the bill is unclear on what language would be acceptable.
“What if a kid has two dads? They can’t bring that up,” Lee questioned. “When they ask me, ‘Hey, Mr. Lee, are you married?’ Am I supposed to lie? So it’s confusing, because where is the line?”
The Florida bill is one of a number of recent initiatives by state legislators to limit the teaching of particular subjects in schools. Across two dozen legislatures introduced over 50 “educational gag orders” during the first nine months of 2021, according to PEN America, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving free expression in the United States and around the world. The majority of the recommendations centered on race, racism, and gender issues, as well as how American history is taught in K-12 schools, public colleges, and workplace trainings.
A PEN America tally shows that around 100 more such measures have been proposed since the beginning of 2022, ranging from prohibiting public school libraries in Oklahoma from holding or promoting books focusing on sex, gender, or sexuality in a way that a “reasonable parent” would not approve of, to prohibiting public K-12 schools in Missouri from including certain ideas related to race or sex in their curricula.
The Florida law was proposed by Republican State Representative Joe Harding. In February, he told CBS News that he wanted classes to focus on essential education themes.
“We want the focus to be on those basic, fundamental things. The reading, the writing, the math. And when discussions come up as a dad of four kids, children ask questions. Discussions are going to come up. We can’t ban a conversation. We can’t ban a discussion. That’s not what we’re doing,” Harding said.
“I think the schools are a safe place, and they need to continue to be a safe place,” he added. “This doesn’t change a school being a safe place.”
According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 51% of Americans support “banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade,” while 35% disagree.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, is likewise a strong supporter. He’s dubbed 2022 the “Year of the Parent,” and he’s likely to sign the measure into law soon. It’s an increasing GOP theme, fueled in part by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign, which mobilized supporters at “Parents Matter” gatherings last autumn. Other Republican governors, like Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Greg Abbott of Texas, have embraced Youngkin’s motto.
Cassie Bailey, a fifth-grade teacher at a public magnet school approximately an hour north of Tampa, feels that parents and politicians should not have a say in how teachers are hired. According to Bailey, LGBTQ talks are not common in her classrooms.
“Those types of topics don’t typically come up, especially in a K-to-three classroom,” said Bailey. “It gets a little bit more talked about, not necessarily by the teacher, but by the students as they get older because they’re trying to figure out who they are.”
The following article is paraphrased from the following: Teachers speak out against Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, Arthur Jones II, March 24, 2022 / 7:29 PM / CBS NEWS, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teachers-florida-parental-rights-in-education-dont-say-gay-bill/