Open and Afraid

It’s 2023, and yet we seem to be moving backward when it comes to freedom of expression. A plethora of states, including Florida, have passed laws limiting the expression of the LGBTQ+ community. Last August House Bill 1557 went into effect that prohibited “ classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.” This completely limits a child’s ability to express themselves from a young age, which can lead to extreme gender dysmorphia for many students. Why, in a day and age that promotes individuality, are we being so limiting towards the self-expression of others?

Going as far back as 1732, people began to coin the terms we use today to describe those in the LGBTQ+ community, such as the word lesbian. 

In 1924 the first gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, was created. People were happy to be the truest version of themselves, but the rest of the world was not pleased with this new openness. 

During World War II almost 100,000 homosexual German men were placed in concentration camps along with the Jewish. These men were the last to be released after the liberation of concentration camps by the Allied Forces due to German Criminal Codes which stated that homosexual relations among men were illegal. 

In 1950, the U.S. Congress issued a report that was titled “Employment Of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government”. This report stated not only that homosexuality was a mental illness, but violated their employee’s privacy by discreetly investigating each of their sexual orientations, deeming anyone who fell into the category a “security risk” to the nation. 

Through difficulties such as these, as well as numerous other, more horrible treatments towards the community, they have persevered, pushing to be considered equal. In 2015, after centuries of struggling, the Supreme Court decision of Obergefell vs. Hodges finally mandated that all states must allow same-sex couples to marry legally. Things were finally looking up. The country was taking strides in the acceptance and equal treatment of LGBTQ+ people. So why are we falling back into the ways in which the world worked decades ago?

Recently, there have been a variety of bills created and passed concerning gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. These bills either prohibit or severely restrict the ability for one to express either subject in school, or for children to learn anything about them whatsoever. 

The Missouri SB 134 bill states that “No nurse, counselor, teacher, principal, contracted personnel, or other administrative official at a public or charter school shall discuss gender identity or sexual orientation with a minor student unless such nurse, counselor, teacher, principal, personnel, or official is a mental health care provider licensed under chapter with prior permission from the student’s parent or legal guardian.” 

This means that no educational care provider can mention anything related to one’s sexual orientation or identity. This eliminates an educator’s ability to use many kinds of print resources, such as books, that have any kind of LGBTQ+ representation, as the teacher would not be able to discuss anything in the book with the class. Texts like this would likely lead to questions from the students if they did not have any prior education on the subject, and teachers would be unable to respond to these questions. The elimination of these texts keeps students in the dark about important social matters and the identities of the people surrounding them.

Furthermore, other states such as South Carolina are taking these regulations a step further. With the SC H3827 bill, South Carolina prohibits any students under the age of 18 be exposed to “instruction, presentations, displays, performances, discussions, assignments, questionnaires, surveys, or materials in any medium made available in any format or setting, including..concepts or instruction on sexual activity, sexual orientation, gender theory, gender identity, gender multiplicity, or gender expression”

Bills like this prohibit students from learning about the people and lives within their society and keep them ignorant of the issues around them. This kind of legislature demonstrates to young minds that there is something inherently wrong, or to adults surrounding these concepts. In reality, though, these are aspects of human identity that should not be shamed. 

Many transgender individuals experience dysmorphia before the age of 18, and with no one teaching children what this means and how they can approach it, they will likely feel alienated and different from their classmates. Furthermore, if gender identity and sexual orientation are not something discussed with children of a young age, they will likely form a prejudice against something new, unfamiliar or “weird”.  

Students will be exposed to these concepts regardless as they grow older, and without telling them that it is okay to identify with a different gender identity or sexual orientation as another person, students will more likely be alienating towards, or feel alienated from, other classmates. 

Students should have the opportunity to learn about our ever-changing society and the individuals who are part of it. This will help them to better understand the people around them and themselves as they begin to grow older and develop a sense of independence. Without these vital first steps, there is excess room for separation among individuals who do not understand those around them. It is unfair for a child to have to grow up feeling different and hiding themselves due to their gender identity or sexual orientation in a setting in which they are supposed to be learning and growing as a person. 

Students may also feel isolated as they will not have any kind of representation to look at or look up to as they are finding themselves. For example, a gay student may find comfort in knowing that there is a gay teacher at their school, who is a successful, independent person happily living their life. These bills affect students far beyond just their personal growth and identity.

Some wording of many of these bills does not allow students to share anything about their personal lives, or their families if their parents are gay. The Williams Institute At UCLA’s School of Law found in New research that “nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) of LGBTQ+ parents surveyed are concerned about the impact of the Don’t Say Gay bill on them and their children”. 

They also expressed concerns “that the bill would restrict them from speaking freely about their families and could affect their children’s sense of self and sense of safety.” 

The fact that certain people’s discomfort surrounding those in the LGBTQ+ community is creating an environment in which a child feels unsafe at school because they are not allowed to discuss their family is far from okay. Children at an elementary school level should not be afraid to talk about their parents to their classmates, nor banned from doing so. The fact that people are so against their children being exposed to the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity that they are willing to make other children feel unwelcome at school because they are not allowed to talk about their two moms or two dads, is ridiculous. 

Personally, as someone who is a part of this community, I would feel completely unsafe, terrified and invalidated at a school with these rules and regulations in place. Someone’s identity should never be age restricted; a person can come out at any age, therefore any person of any age should be aware of how a person identifies.

These new bills are written from a place of fear and discomfort, but these few individuals’ discomfort can have a major impact on thousands of lives.

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