Howard Brown Health Opposes “Don’t Say Gay” Legislation

Due to the current surge of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country, LGBTQ+ youth have increasingly become targets of harassment and discrimination. U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-R) recently introduced a national bill known as the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act (STSOCA). This new bill expands upon discriminatory and stigmatizing “Don’t Say Gay” (DSG) bills that have been introduced and passed in several states this year. Supporters of these bills claim that they will protect youth from exposure to “sexual imagery and radical gender ideology.” However, removing age-appropriate educational resources does not protect youth; on the contrary, it causes harm to LGBTQ+ youth, their families, and society as a whole.

Here is what you can do to help advocate for LGBTQ+ people!

State-Sponsored “Don’t Say Gay” Bills

Six states have passed laws banning school employees from discussing LGBTQ+ issues, and five states have passed laws requiring parental notification of LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, allowing parents to opt their children out. One of the most prominent DSG bills was Florida’s HB 1557, Parental Rights Bill, which was signed into law by Governor DeSantis on March 28th, 2022. Florida’s law prohibits school staff from educating on topics “related to sexual orientation or gender identity,” citing that it is inappropriate material for children in grades kindergarten through 3rd grade. Inspired by Florida, other states drafted similar DSG legislation with additions of their own. Tennessee’s proposed HB 0800 includes a more expansive age range from kindergarten through 12th grade and would prohibit any materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address LGBTQ+ issues or lifestyles” in all public schools. Arizona’s proposed HB 2011, would mandate all public and charter schools to obtain written consent from a student’s parent or guardian to take part in any school group that relates to “sexuality, gender, or gender identity.” It would also grant parents access to all student records containing information on sexuality, gender, or gender identity. These state bills have paved the way for a national DSG bill.

The National “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

STSOCA includes features of previous state-sponsored DSG bills, but it is especially concerning as it extends beyond the classroom. The proposed bill would make it illegal for federal funds to be used to support any “sexually-oriented” program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10. The bill is broad and could affect an array of federally funded organizations, including universities, libraries, museums, health centers, and social service non-profits. STSOCA defines “sexually-oriented material” as “any depiction, description, or simulation of sexual activity, any lewd or lascivious depiction or description of human genitals, or any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.” As such, it equates age-appropriate education about sexual orientation and gender identity with sexually explicit content, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ identities. Additionally, the bill would give parents and guardians the right to bring legal action against public officials, non-profit organizations, and private businesses if their student is “exposed” to such sexually-oriented materials. The bill’s language specifically mentions Drag Queen story hours as a specific example of sexually-oriented exposure.

Harms of DSG Bills

Proponents of DSG bills are spreading hateful anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, including the false narrative of “grooming” that suggests that queerness is dangerous and can lead to child abuse. They insist that schools and other organizations that provide LGBTQ+ inclusive resources are using these materials to recruit, indoctrinate, and sexualize children. Yet, age-appropriate education on relationships and identities has always been provided to students without concern; these resources have just always been framed on cisgender, heterosexual human experiences. Allowing youth to learn about the full diversity of human identities will foster a more compassionate and understanding society, and there is nothing inherently sexual or inappropriate about such education.

Unfortunately, the fearmongering around grooming has resulted in increased attacks on the LGBTQ+ community over the last year especially. Legislators who support such homophobic and transphobic rhetoric act as validation to others who wish to terrorize LGBTQ+ people. A study by the Human Rights Campaign found that hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ discourse on social media grew by 406% in the month following the passing of Florida’s DSG bill. What starts as fear and intimidation online can lead to real world consequences, as 20% of all hate crimes are anti-LGBTQ+ motivated. For example, earlier this summer, staff at the Uprising Bakery and Café in the Chicago suburbs received threats and the establishment was vandalized because they planned to host a family friendly drag event. Upon recently re-opening, Uprising Bakery’s owners were met with anti-LGBTQ+ protestors. Other similar anti-LGBTQ+ attacks have been on the rise all across the country. Police stopped 31 white supremacists on their way to disrupt an LGBTQ+ pride event in Idaho, and a group of right-wing extremists interrupted a family-appropriate drag event by shouting anti-LGBTQ+ slurs at parents and children in California.

Of course, DSG bills also have a tremendous impact on school environments. After Florida passed its DSG bill, LGBTQ+ students and their allies in schools across the state were taunted with threats from other students like, “Kill ‘em all.” LGBTQ+ students already struggle to find affirming educational environments and in turn face higher risk for depression and suicidality. According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 Mental Health Survey, 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. More specifically, over 60% of LGBTQ+ youth said their mental health has declined due to recent legislative efforts to ban gender-affirming care. Often, students who may not have accepting parents at home rely on the support of an affirming teacher or supportive school club. According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, supportive teachers positively influenced students’ academics, absenteeism, emotional well-being, and safety. However, with the presence of DSG bills, staff are cautious to express any support for LGBTQ+ students and schools are going to tremendous lengths to remove LGBTQ+ resources. In Florida, teachers were advised to not wear rainbow clothing items, to remove Safe Space stickers from their classrooms, and to omit LGBTQ+ historical figures in lesson plans.

Whether the National DSG Bill passes Congress or not, its presence is still causing harm. Here is what you can do to help advocate for LGBTQ+ people!

Tags: Advocacy


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