The last three years haven’t been good for LGBTQ+ rights in education, with protests against the teaching of LGBTQ+ topics in UK primary schools in 2019 and a series of education censorship bills being implemented in the US from 2021.
Over the past year, the US has seen an uptake in Republican-run states introducing legislation that censors LGBTQ+ and gender identity discussions in schools.
The Florida Bill – one of many
One of these laws has come into force in Florida, US, which will restrict educators from teaching students about sexuality and gender issues at certain ages. This is just the tip of the iceberg, according to US non-profit PEN, which found that over 156 bills targeting issues of identity have been introduced or refiled in 39 states since January 2021.
The Parental Rights in Education Bill, also known as the ‘don’t say gay‘ bill by critics, became law in Florida on 28th March 2022 and will come into effect from 1 July 2022. It requires all school district plans to be updated by June 2023 to be compliant.
Under the new ruling, parents of Florida school children “may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment”. A court may award damages and attorney’s fees if it decides that a school has violated the law.
In response, LGBTQ+ advocacy organisations filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who passed the bill into law, as well as Florida’s education officials, in an attempt to block the enforcement of the law on 31 March 2022.
Democratic lawmakers had proposed amendments to the bill to remove language that might target LGBTQ+ students and their families, but these attempts failed.
Risks to LGBTQ+ children and education
Teachers in Florida could face lawsuits if they teach these topics to children in kindergarten through to third grade or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards in other grades.”
Critics believe the ‘age-appropriate’ aspect of the legislation could mean the bill could apply to all school grades, potentially wiping out LGBTQ+ education in Florida’s schools and stalling inclusion and psychological safety for LGBTQ+ school children.
They fear it could ‘out’ LGBTQ+ students in Florida schools, silence and negatively impact their development. Many think the bill threatens teachers’ freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. However, advocates of the bill say it gives parents more visibility and control over their children’s education.
Tensions in UK schools – a concerning trend
News of the Florida bill has been followed by walkouts and demonstrations against it and echoes similar yet quite different events in the UK in 2019, highlighting growing resistance and hostility around LGBTQ+ education in schools on a trans-national scale.
In 2019, mass protests took place outside a number of Birmingham primary schools with Muslim majority pupils over the teaching of LGBTQ+ topics such as non-heterosexual relationships, with protestors claiming their children were being sexualised too early with content that also went against Islamic teachings and beliefs.
As a result of the nature of the protests, with some teachers receiving abuse and many being treated for stress at one primary school, Anderton Park, a High Court judge ruled in favour of an exclusion zone around the school to prevent further demonstrations.
Regardless of location, with childrens’ early school years being a formative part of their educational and social life; if they are not taught about the LGBTQ+ community, what’s the hope for them to become inclusive and equity-minded adults when they enter senior education, wider society, and eventually, the workplace?
In this article, you learned that:
- Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill, which restricts teachings on LGBTQ+ and gender identity topics at certain school ages, is one of 156 similar bills introduced in the US since 2021.
- Critics fear the Florida bill could ‘out’ LGBTQ+ children and stem their development, with its ‘age appropriate’ reference having the potential to apply to further school grades.
- Developments in the US follow tensions between Muslim communities and primary schools in Birmingham, UK, in 2019, over schools teaching students LGBTQ+ topics.