IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill would erase families like mine

The attack on LGBTQ people in our schools is an attack on me as a parent.

UPDATE (02/24/2022 3:30 p.m. E.T.): Florida's House of Representatives on Thursday passed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by a vote of 69-to-47. It now goes to the Florida Senate, where it is expected to pass as well.

I remember when I first came out to my oldest daughter as a trans woman. She was 6 years old and her mom and I had separated several months earlier. I had rarely been so nervous before in my life as I stumbled over words to explain to her just how much her life would be changing.

She had a lot of questions, and I had to explain to her what a transgender person is. I suggested to her that she and eventually her then-infant sister could call me “Maddy,” a mashup of mommy and daddy, instead of “Daddy.” She looked at me with wide eyes and exclaimed, “But you’re never mad! What about Addy?” The name stuck.

In the end, we agreed that we loved each other very much, no matter what we called each other, and we watched a movie after our talk. It’s been relatively smooth sailing between us since then.

Another cohort of kids would also be greatly affected by this bill: students with LGBTQ parents.

But a bill in Florida now threatens rainbow families like mine. Conservative legislators in the state have been slowly advancing the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban teachers and school officials from mentioning or discussing LGBTQ issues. The bill’s chances of success are high given that Gov. Ron DeSantis supports its passage. If she lived in Florida, my daughter's equal access to education would be excluded from any lessons or assignments about her family by the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

Much has been written already about the most obvious targets of bills like this — LGBTQ students themselves.

But another cohort of kids would also be greatly affected by this bill: students with LGBTQ parents.

Shortly after I came out to my daughter, she casually mentioned my transition to her kindergarten classmates. It wasn’t anything I asked her to do, it was just typical kid talk among classmates. She tried to explain that her dad is a girl, a frankly foreign concept even in our relatively progressive community.

She was reluctant to talk about it with me, but my understanding is that my daughter was mocked and made fun of because of me. I was gutted.

My daughter, now 12, is in a new school district, where tells me she has a lot of LGBTQ friends. But I still don’t think she ever talks about my gender identity at school — and I don’t blame her. There’s no doubt a law like what the "Don’t Say Gay" bill proposes would only make the situation worse for students like my daughter.

The United Kingdom had a similar law in the late 1980s and 1990s, called Section 28. Section 28 made it extremely difficult for teachers and school administrators to stem the tide of bullying against queer kids and kids of gay and trans parents. If a student was bullied for being or acting gay, teachers could only step in to tell the bullies to stop, but never mention the reason the bullying was happening in the first place. Even worse, Section 28 essentially allowed bigoted teachers to join in on the bullying.

If my kids lived in Florida and this bill passed, they would be facing the same thing if some classmate decided to bully them over me.

But beyond bullying, which I would hope we can all step back and see is always wrong, and often deadly, think about how many assignments in school growing up were about your family. My other daughter is now in her first year of school. To her, I’ve always just been Addy. She doesn’t remember the me I was before she was born.

Would she even be allowed to mention her Addy in her schoolwork or in class discussions?

I ask about some of the work she’s been doing in kindergarten this year and she tells me how much she loves math because she’s good at it, and she’s excited to learn to read. Her assignments often ask her about her family.

Would she even be allowed to mention her Addy in her schoolwork or in class discussions? Would her teachers be fired if they allowed my kids to answer school questions about their family honestly? I worry that they’ll be excluded from such assignments because of me, or worse, that discussion of family altogether will be tossed aside to appease the bloodlust of homophobic Republicans.

This new, and it must be said, completely unhinged, world that conservatives are pushing for threatens my children’s rights to an equal education. This push to ban books and make certain curricula illegal is going too far and too fast as conservative America has become caught up in a moral panic that originated with anxiety about treating gender dysphoria in children.

In a year with dozens of anti-trans bills, the Florida bill stands out for its cruelty, and given DeSantis’ support, it has a decent chance of passing. But this is only the beginning for conservatives in the U.S., who seem set on establishing a Christian nationalist state by any means possible. If this bill passes in Florida, I think we’re likely to see copycat bills pop up in other state legislatures across the country.

It would do well for Americans to take a deep breath, step back and really examine the dynamics in play here, and the devastating potential consequences for queer kids and those with queer parents.