Anti-LGBTQ education laws, including ‘don’t say gay’, went into effect

For most U.S. students, summer vacations are in full swing, bringing days away from campus, near the pool or sweeping up a summer reading list.

But starting July 1, queer and transgender students in six states may experience very different school environments than before.

At the beginning of the month, 10 anti-LGBTQ laws came into force, all of which were related to education. Legislation includes new Florida restrictions banning classroom discussions on sex and gender, which have become the framework for other states that want to limit what students learn about these issues and when.

Also effective from July: restricting sports teams for transgender students to join Indiana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah, and Alabama law which emphasizes Florida law “don’t say gay” but also prohibits transgender students use toilets, boxes and other facilities of the same sex.

With school districts across the country still months away from recognizing the full impact of these new policies, LGBTQ and civil rights advocates said they were shocked. These rules can have a negative impact on the mental health of LGBTQ students, who already have high levels of depression and suicide, and can trigger a culture of fear and suspicion among students and school staff, experts said.

In addition, given the novelty of such laws, there is confusion among schools, community members and advocates on how to implement them.

These bills will have a lasting impact on LGBTQ students, said Sam Ames, advocacy and government affairs manager at the Trevor Project, which provides support to LGBTQ youth with mental health problems. And the organisation’s survey suggests that these policies may already have an impact as young people observe ongoing debates across the country about their place in society.

Ames believes it is no coincidence that education-focused bills went into effect at the same time. And, they added, different bills will affect different aspects of young people’s lives – if that forces a trans boy to use the girl’s dressing room; forbidding children to talk about who they are or who they are attracted to; or ordering the girl to be considered “too masculine” to confirm their sexuality before playing a group game.

“The only thing [these rules] really have in common is their target,” Ames said.

Lawmakers who introduced these bills argued that they were meant to protect children, promote justice and, in the words of Gov. Florida Ron DeSantis (R), pushing back on “awakened sexual thought.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi L. Noem (R) said the state’s ban on trans girls competing in women’s sports, the first such law to be signed this year, will ensure “that girls once “Everybody has the opportunity to play at a high level, to get justice, that gives them a chance to win.”

Ames and other advocates argue that, in fact, these bills only hurt students who are already vulnerable to discrimination and lack of institutional and family support.

Florida and Alabama laws prohibiting classroom discussions also require school staff to tell parents if their children share a possible homosexual or transgender relationship. (This also applies to students seeking counseling on depression, substance use or divorce, the New York Times reported.)

This will effectively force teachers and counselors, who may be the only ones confirming LGBTQ children’s adult life, to pass it on to their parents, Ames said, a result that could jeopardize their safety. Research has shown that young people and adolescents experience parental abuse and homelessness at levels higher than their direct or gender peers.

“If we are talking about forcibly removing transgender students from their classrooms, parents and school staff, we are putting a lot of pressure on them,” Ames said.

Other experts point out that cisgender students may be influenced by some of these policies, which may encourage sexual harassment and distrust in school communities.

This is because of the ambiguity and confusion of some of these laws, said Elizabeth Skarin, campaign director for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

For example, South Dakota law – which applies to all K-12 public schools and public colleges – prohibits trans girls from playing in women’s sports teams, but does not say which groups can be played by young people.

For Skarin, the law is not only “unacceptably fundamentally” as he votes for discrimination against trans girls, but it is also unclear how it will work. This is true of similar bills in other states, she said.

“The rules are poorly written or unclear or open to questionable doors, which is not usually what you want outside the law,” Skarin added.

Then, there is the issue of implementation.

The State of South Dakota itself will not ensure that schools follow the law. Instead, it allows private citizens to sue schools or districts they think did not comply with the ban.

“It really takes the power of the government and puts it in the hands of private actors to decide if they are suing,” Skarin said. (This approach reflects a ban on abortion in states such as Texas, which enables private citizens to sue abortion providers as well as sue anyone who helps someone who wants to. abortion.)

Such legislation is also noteworthy because it could make it harder for the state to prosecute for possible violations of the Equal Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendment 1972, Skarin added. (The ACLU and the federal government argue that laws like South Dakota clearly violate both.) It can also be very difficult for the courts to stop the law when it is in dispute.

The South Dakota governor’s office insists the law is in line with the Constitution and is ready to defend the law in court.

Last year, Noem did not sign a law similar to the law out of concern that it could endanger the state and trigger an NCAA repeal. But the governor, who is running again, is campaigning for the law this year. Her office amended the 2022 law to say the state will provide legal representation and cover the costs of any lawsuit against the law, the Associated Press news agency reported.

At this time, it is unclear if and how parents and other community members will file these complaints.

A report released by the 2021 Associated Press found that out of a dozen state legislators who issued a ban on competitive sports last year, most could not cite a single example of the involvement of a trans woman who causes problems. Skarin said that because the number of trans girls playing sports is very low, it is possible that these rules are constantly affecting sex players: girls who are competitive or appear to be aggressive or masculine, active and can influence black women and more girls. than their White counterparts, as well as the wise students.

The same applies to Florida law, which prohibits classroom instruction or discussion on LGBTQ issues in kindergarten through third grade (limiting these topics to future classes “age-appropriate instruction”), which gives parents the right to sue schools. if they think the law has been violated. The law is broad and can be interpreted in many ways, said Kara Gross, director of legislation and senior policy adviser for the ACLU in Florida.

This will not only empower adults, she said, but will also create a “cold effect” for teachers and school officials who are worried and confused about what may be considered inappropriate, and school districts, which and will be forced to pay tuition fees. court.

Gross thinks the purpose of these laws is to eliminate LGBTQ people and communities in as many ways as possible.

“[These bills] are all different parts of the same, which is basically an attack on LGBTQ individuals across the country,” she said.

But Ames, of the Trevor Project, said there is still a lot of concern for parents, educators and community members to support LGBTQ students in the face of these bills.

Confirmation and acceptance go a long way, and simply using the child’s preferred name and pronouns can help prevent social isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts, experts say. And at a time when the nationwide mental health crisis is affecting millions of American children, schools can also formulate suicide prevention policies including for LGBTQ students.

“If you have a young person in your life … tell them what is going wrong,” Ames said. “Tell them that although these politicians can be powerful, control is different from force. Young people have shown from time to time that what they have is strength.”