Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Law: When Sexuality Becomes Taboo in School

Schools in the United States are increasingly the scene of politically motivated culture wars. Florida will now ban the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to children under the age of 10.

Last week, the Florida State Senate passed controversial legislation banning the teaching of the curriculum on sexual orientation and gender identity in children from kindergarten to third grade. Also, teachers should not talk about these topics in an “age-inappropriate” way towards older children and young people.

The law is now before Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for signature – and he has already signaled that he wants to sign it. In this way, they say, Republicans want to protect children from problems they can’t work through – and they want to strengthen parental rights. Schools can now be sued even if they do not respect “Parental Rights in Education” – rightly the name of the new law.

Fear of the marginalization of the LGBTQ community

However, it is better known by the name of “Don’t Say Gay”. Opponents and activists called him that. Because there is a lot of headwind, including US President Joe Biden himself, who called the law “hateful”. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, told DW: “It is always appropriate to recognize the existence and worth of LGBTQ families – and that we are a normal and healthy part of society “.

This is more than just a lack of appreciation. Many people fear that the taboo of alternative gender identities and non-heterosexual orientations will lead to more discrimination and violence. This is one of the reasons why thousands of schoolchildren and members of the LGBTQ community recently gathered to protest.

“Sex education already useful in kindergarten”

Also worried is Eva Goldfarb, a professor of public health at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Goldfarb has worked in the field of sex education for 25 years, trained educators in the United States, and is a co-author of a US national standard program on sex education.

“Sex education and the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity should start very early in an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate form,” the expert points out. “Babies are naturally curious and start asking questions, for example when they see a pregnant woman. What if they themselves had two mothers, two fathers, or perhaps a gay brother? The task of educators and teachers is to help them understand these things so that they are not scary and not taboo ”.

According to Goldfarb, such an early education sets the stage for later entering into more complex discussions with older teens. “It is no different in other school subjects. Nobody would think to say that suddenly we were teaching algebra in eighth grade without first teaching the basics of mathematics.

Slavery and racism should also not be a problem

The question of how teachers should talk about sexual orientation and gender identity is a hot topic, and not just in Florida, there are similar bills in other states as well. In Arizona, teachers will need to notify parents when their children raise the issue of gender identity. In Indiana, schools should ask for parental consent if they want to talk about sexual orientation. And in Oklahoma a bill has been introduced to ban books on the subject from school libraries.

The topic of sex education is part of a global political culture war in the field of education: in many places there is also a debate on how we can talk about history, slavery and racism in schools.

For example, the “Stop Woke Act” was recently also passed in Florida. Among other things, the law is intended to prevent students from being ashamed of the actions of the American founding fathers. This is true, for example, of the history of slavery and white responsibility in the United States. The “Stop Woke Act” is also directed against the so-called critical theory of race, a scientific concept that defines racism as a structural problem.

Parents should have a say in the curriculum

What’s curious is that Critical Race Theory was never an official part of the school curriculum in Florida. As well as the themes of sexual orientation and gender identity were hardly present in the curricula of kindergarten and elementary school. The question remains: what are the country’s conservative forces actually fighting against?

In the case of Florida, many suspect that Governor DeSantis wants to make a name for himself within the Republican Party and among voters. Equality Florida’s Brandon Wolf is also convinced: “All this is oriented towards his re-election as governor in 2022. And he wants to overtake Donald Trump on the right to run for the presidential elections of 2024”.

Another question is: who actually wants and needs these laws? In a recent survey by market research firm Ipsos, nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed laws such as Florida’s banning the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary schools.

Those who have taken to the streets by the thousands against parental rights in education, including many students, do not want the law. And their parents, who was promised more? Eva Goldfarb is convinced: “Most parents appreciate having a partner in educational institutions who helps with sex education. And as far as I know, most states already have the option to forgo sex education. So if you don’t want your child to take sex education classes, that’s not necessary. “

According to Goldfarb, in some states, such as Arizona, the situation is already reversed: the child takes part in sex education courses only if the parents actively choose to do so.

Political trench warfare at the expense of children

The threat of an alleged left-wing dictatorship in matters of racism or sexuality, invoked by the right, is therefore limited. And although sexual orientation and gender identity are openly discussed in kindergartens and elementary schools, conservatives’ fear that this will encourage children to become gay, lesbian, transgender or queer is, according to Eva Goldfarb, sheer nonsense. . “There is absolutely no scientific evidence that what you learn in school can change your sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s not how sex works. Here scary scenarios are created that in reality do not exist “.

On the contrary, the scientist finds it bizarre not to talk about such topics these days: “For the new generations none of this is a big deal anymore. And now we say, no, can we not talk about it anymore? “

While some states in the United States are moving in this direction, there are other examples in the polarized society of the United States. In Colorado, for example, since 2019 a law requires public schools to provide “comprehensive education on human sexuality”. Similar regulations also exist in California and New Jersey.

In order to reduce real problems such as high abortion rates and discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, Professor Goldfarb hopes that the current “reactionary tenor” will subside. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida is convinced: “That these laws bring political victories to Republican politicians for a moment. But this is not the direction in which the country is heading in the long term ”.

Author: Ines Eisele