‘Hurtful and abusive’: Florida teachers react to ‘don’t say gay’ law

Clinton McCracken, an art teacher in Orange County, Florida, grew up in a small Midwestern town where he didn’t experience a man like GLATQ until he left for college. He worries that Florida’s recent controversial “don’t say gay” bill is dangerous, hateful legislation that poses many risks to GLATQ youth in the state.

“I couldn’t go to any classroom and see rainbow stickers on the door that say this is a safe place where you can be who you are,” McCracken said. “It simply came to our notice then. That’s what we’re trying to create for our students. This law, I see as an effort to get rid of the years we’ve spent trying to make it a better place for kids so they don’t have to grow up like I grew up where I thought I was all alone and then I barely got through high school . ”

Florida’s teachers, students and LGBT community continue to speak out against the bill signed by right-wing Trump-backed Governor Ron DeSantis last month.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality Florida, and Florida Families has filed a lawsuit against the bill, arguing that it is unconstitutional. The legislation has already begun to have a frightening effect on teachers, students and the LGBT community, although it will not take effect until July.

The bill, called its Republican authors’ Parental Rights Education Bill, prohibits classroom teaching of sexual identity or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as any instruction characterized as inappropriate – obscure language that prompted concerns that the bill would be used. to suppress and intimidate mere recognition by the GLATQ community in public schools.

“Don’t say gay” also gives parents the right to sue for damages and attorney fees if a school district does not resolve their child’s education complaint, which essentially prohibits discussion of GLATQ matters or identities. A teacher in St Johns County was reprimanded by their school district after a parent complained about his T-shirt, which said “Protect Trans Kids.”

McCracken has characterized the legislative efforts spreading in other parts of the United States as part of a war on gay civil rights ignited by Republicans and is deeply concerned about the negative effects of the bill on students and teachers.

“As a gay man, I find it both painful and insulting. It’s painful because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my life as a gay man, “he said.” I have a loving husband, we have a wonderful life together. Not only did being gay not hurt their learning, but it was probably helpful for many people – not just GLATQ + students, but other students who also see that I am willing to live my life openly and that I believe everyone should be able to live their lives with dignity and respect and we should treat each other like human beings. “

Many other Florida teachers agree.

“The inaccuracy of the language in this bill opens an unfortunate door to allow bigotry to continue,” said Caitlin Pearse, an elementary school music teacher in Hillsborough County, Florida. “What we’re talking about here is the right to be seen and represented in classrooms. We have a lot of books in elementary school showing heterosexual couples, they have parental characters who are moms and dads, such things. We want to be seen just as honest couples are seen in the media. “

The bill was allegedly prompted by a lawsuit filed by parents against Leon County, Florida, who claimed they were not involved by the school in a discussion of their child’s sexual identity, although emails obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat revealed that the mother of the child worked. with a teacher on how to deal with the situation.

Florida Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley, sponsor of the bill, in remarks on the state Senate floor, made claims of a large increase in the number of children coming out as gay and framed the bill in response to that. Throughout her political career, Baxley has also fought against same-sex marriage, equated the children of people with drug addictions with the children of lesbian parents, voted in 2015 to allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with GLATQ parents, and supported. other anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“This bill, for me, is a sign of pure hatred,” said Javier Gomez, a high school student at iPrep Academy in Miami, Florida, and president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. “They aim for a demographic that can really benefit from all these teachings on sexual identity and sexual orientation, on differences in cultures, and learn about accepting themselves as they are, because many children at a very young age know who they are. is. I knew I was gay for five years. “

Florida was already a bad climate for GLATQ students. A 2019 survey of 848 students in Florida conducted by GLSEN found that the majority of students were regularly exposed to anti-LGBTQ remarks by other students or staff and high percentages of students reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their sexual or gender identity. A report by the Trevor Project estimates that at least one LGBT youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempted suicide every 45 seconds in the United States.

“Many students who do not graduate are petrified. They’re scared, they’re terrified, ”said 17-year-old CJ Walden, a high school student in Boca Raton, Florida, and vice president of the GLBTQ lobbying nonprofit PRISM FL. “A lot of students want to go back to the closet, they’re afraid to be who they are, they’re afraid to express themselves. And now that if teachers or counselors have to externalize or report students, if a student doesn’t have a support household, an adult on campus, what should they do? We are left helpless without the support we need and we continue to face homophobia from our government. “

Proponents of the “don’t say gay” legislation are campaigning in support of expanding bills to other states, including claims that Disney is trying to “sex off our children” as part of a progressive GLATQ agenda. These allegations were made by Chris Rufo, a right-wing thinker who leaked videos of Disney executives, claiming that Disney has “a not-so-secret gay agenda”.

This comes just weeks after Disney faced criticism from employees and the GLATQ community for refusing to make a statement against Florida’s bill not to say gay. Rufus previously worked as a fellow for the Claremont Institute, which has a troubled record of anti-gay politics and pressure for conversion “therapy”.

“I’m gay too, so this hits me twice as hard,” said Jean Eckhoff, a history teacher of high school and high school students at Live Oak, Florida, for 17 years. “I’m 52, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

Eckhoff said she is appalled not only by the passage of the Florida bill, but by similar legislation pushed in other states with Republican majorities around the United States. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.

Similar bills go ahead or receive calls from Republicans in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.

“They found out these really vile insults, calling anyone who disagrees with the bill caretaker and pedophile, and that’s a very serious charge for a teacher. It basically says you shouldn’t be in the classroom,” Eckhoff said. “It simply came to our notice then. It is humiliating. Every time I turn on the news, every day in the newspaper, on Twitter or on Facebook, we are insulted every day. “