Just when it seemed like steps were being made to make the country safer for LGBTQQIA children and adults, the so-called “Parental Rights in Education Bill” raised its ugly head in Florida, where it was passed by the Senate and may well be go into effect in July of this year if the governor approves it. To some, it seems like a reasonable limitation on what children are taught in school about people with different sexual orientations or gender identification.
However, for many people in the LGBTQQIA community, it is an attempt to limit education and the possibility of more acceptance for people who are not straight or cisgender. Recent protests have shown that not everyone supports the “don’t say gay” bill, but what is disturbing is how much support such efforts at censorship there is.\
You may have strong opinions one way or the other about this, or you may be scratching your head about what it all means for LGBTQQIA students and families. To this writer, it seems like an attempt at cultural and legislative erasure for LGBTQQIA people, at least in Florida.
I am not sure how students would be harmed by knowing about other ways of loving each other or identifying outside of the binary tradition of male-female. If students cannot learn about and discuss any kind of diversity, whether it is gender-based or sexuality-based, how can we shape a society that is sensitive and caring about their fellow students, teachers, family members, friends, etc.? How does keeping gender and sexuality diversity secret from children really help them?
What is the personal effect of anti-LGBTQQIA law on students?
On the face of it, you might wonder what the trouble is with parents having a say in what their children learn. However, it does seem to target a group of people who are already largely stigmatized by our society. If marginalized groups like the LGBTQQIA community cannot be recognized publicly, what affect does not have on the mental health of people who belong to that community? How would you feel if you were the parent of a student who identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and your child could not talk about what he or she experiences? How would you feel if you were a student who was transgender or gender-fluid, and suddenly no one could discuss anything related to your gender identity?
If you are familiar with the community that this bill targets, you know that LGBTQQIA youth are at greater risk for suicide, substance abuse, and mental health challenges than cisgender, straight youth. What are the contributing factors for this increased risk? Could it have something to do with lack of acceptance from society at large, parents, friends, schools, and communities?
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic because then hard on many people’s mental health, regardless of how they identify are in terms of gender or sexuality. Children and adolescents saw a rise in mental health problems, including self-harm and drug poisoning. I am puzzled as to why, in the face of all this suffering that we’ve already endured as a country, why further the misery of some of our country’s most vulnerable children and adolescents? Bills like this further marginalize and discriminate against people who already feel rejected on many levels or something over which they have no control.
Anti-LGBTQQIA legislation is happening in Texas too!
Florida is not the only state to propose and pass anti-LGBTQQIA legislation. In Texas, there is also a lack of protection for discrimination against LGBTQQIA people, as well as a ban on discussing issues related to this community in school settings. This seems to create an environment where stigma can negatively impact the mental and physical well-being of LGBTQQIA people.
Even if a child who is gender nonconforming or LGB is born to parents who are affirming and supportive, which is not is common as you would hope or think, the general environment in a state like that allows for rampant discrimination and marginalization. There is a much bigger struggle when the larger culture and state law reinforces discrimination and fails to protect physical, legal and emotional safety.
Unfortunately, there are many other copycat bills like this springy up in the legislature in many states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Arizona. Not all of the nearly 240 bills will be passed, and a few Republican legislators are breaking party rank by speaking out against the bills, but there seems to be a backlash against the small steps forward that were taken in 2015 and 2020.
So, what do we do in the face of Anti-LGBTQQIA legislation?
In order to protect your mental health for a few are a member of the LGBTQQIA community or an ally, there are three basic things that can be done. One is to make your voice heard by those in power. Communicate your feelings about the legislation, even if you are not from that state, to but the governors and legislature in most states know how you feel. Sometimes, with enough dissent or public discourse (which is what these laws seems to discourage), change can happen. It is frightening and strange, especially when same-sex marriage was made a basic right not too long ago.
A second approach is to get support from other like-minded people in your community. Find out if there are support groups or advocacy groups in your city or community for LGBTQQIA rights. During the AIDS crisis, there was a slogan that "Silence = Death." Because HIV/AIDS struck down so many gay men in the 1980s, there seemed to be an initial lack of interest in finding a cure for the disease or reducing infection rates. Stigma and marginalization do impact people’s mental and physical health. This is true regardless of which marginalize group you belong to – which is why it is so important to care about the well-being of everybody, not just one particular group.
Thirdly, if you feel very isolated and you are impacted by this type of legislation as a member of the LGBTQQIA community or as an ally, you might consider packing to a professional who understands what’s at stake. Hearing about anti-LGBTQQIA discrimination affects us all, whether we realize it or not. Professional help can improve your coping with the stress from dealing with oppression and discrimination. You can also find proactive and empowering ways to stay strong in the face of anti-LGBTQQIA legislation. If you are interested in speaking with a professional ally, please call 661-233-6771.