On March 8th, 2022, Florida passed the Parental Rights in Education bill. This bill states that educators and school staff cannot withhold information about a student’s sexuality and gender identity. And while supporters of this bill believe that this will protect their children, many opponents believe that it does the exact opposite.
Now coined the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the bill states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards. ”
Referring to gender identities and sexual orientation as being “not age-appropriate” or not “developmentally appropriate” degrades the LGBTQ community. It’s an idea that is causing us to take a huge step backward in inclusion and diversity in our world rather than forward.
It’s imperative that from a young age, students understand sexuality. If they are taught that it is an inappropriate subject, it will make it much more challenging for them to express who they are or explore their sexuality. It will make them feel ashamed for simply being who they truly are. Early exposure to this topic in classrooms, on the other hand, allows all students from a young age to be informed and taught about the LGBTQ community in a respectful and inclusive manner. Growing up, it teaches them to better understand the LGBTQ community, and allows LGBTQ youth to feel comfortable and safe in their skin; it could save lives.
According to “The Trevor Project”, a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention among the LGBTQ community, “LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide than their peers.”
School, a place where students should feel safe to express who they are, shouldn’t become a place where kids need to hide who they are. Coming out is a personal decision that individuals must make for themselves. It should be their decision when it comes to who they share this information with and when they decide to do it. Unfortunately, schools aren’t always as safe as we expect them to be.
When asked about circumstances where students of the LGBTQ community have been hurt or unsafe, here is what Millard North Principal Brian Begley said, “Sadly, yes, such things happen at Millard North just as they happen in society. Whenever our administration team receives a report that any student, whether a member of the LGBTQ+ community or not, is victimized in violation of our MPS policy rule, we move swiftly and surely to investigate while holding students accountable in keeping with due process.”
While Millard North has policies in order to protect the LGBTQ community against discrimination and division, Florida is doing the exact opposite, making the LGBTQ community look like they are somehow less than others.
According to a Pew Research Survey, 4 in 10 individuals who are part of the LGBTQ community are rejected by their family or friends. An article by the Williams Institute states, “LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault.”
With these numbers in front of us, this law can largely endanger the LGBTQ community. Schools cannot advertise themselves as inclusive and diverse when internally directly encouraging discrimination between students.
An NBC article goes on to share, “Democrat Shevrin Jones, the first openly gay Florida state senator, urged his colleagues to narrow the bill’s language to say instruction should not be ‘intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.’” But Jone’s proposal failed.
While the world outside may feel scary and unfair, schools would always be a place where students can feel respected and understood. At Millard North Begley strives to create an inclusive environment where every student can feel safe and equal. Begley explains that this also plays a role when it comes to hiring the teachers and staff at Millard North.
“I have constantly reminded our teachers and staff to be vigilant in support of our students and our safe learning environment. In addition, as principal, I have regularly attended SAGA meetings each year so that I can listen, offer support, and be a positive role model for our LGBTQ+ student community which is a reflection of our greater community,” Begley said.
It’s all-important that students of Millard North understand the importance of inclusion and equality.
“I believe it is our students’ responsibility to be respectful, to be kind, and to never bully, harass, sexually harass, or mistreat any student or staff member within our Millard North community,” Begley said.
Begley is proud of the environment he was able to foster at Millard North and hopes to continue to see movement in the positive direction.
“Millard North is a kinder and more inclusive school than it was in 2007 when I became principal. I would like to see this positive trend continue, and under Dr. Bearinger’s caring and capable leadership, I am confident that it will,” Begley said.
Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and everyone faces different experiences. It’s important to allow people to embrace who they are and support them, not tear them down and discriminate.