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Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill is child abuse, plain and simple

Data on bullying of LGBTQ children show the dangers of a recently proposed amendment to a bill backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is being considered by the Florida Legislature.


UPDATE (Feb. 22, 2022, 3:40 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to reflect Florida state Rep. Joe Harding, R, withdrawing an amendment Tuesday that would have required schools to out LGBTQ students to their parents.

This past weekend saw a deluge of outrage stemming from a proposed amendment to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would force schools to out LGBTQ children to their parents within six weeks of learning their sexual orientation. 

Republican state Rep. Joe Harding, the bill’s co-sponsor, withdrew the amendment on Tuesday in response to the outrage, but what remains is still oppressive.

The bill — backed Gov. Ron DeSantis — wouldn't allow schools districts to prohibit school officials from outing students to their parents, unless the officials felt doing so would result in "abuse, abandonment or neglect." The proposed legislation would also bar educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity between kindergarten and third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

“The school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent,” Harding’s amendment had stated.

It proposed that the plan “must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects the parent-child relationship and protects the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student.”

Rainbow flags at the Gay Pride Parade on Ocean Drive
Rainbow flags at a gay pride parade on Ocean Drive in Miami, Florida.Jeff Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images, File

The bill flies in the face of the ample data we have showing LGBTQ kids face rejection, bullying and even potential violence when their sexual orientation is disclosed without their consent. The American Psychological Association, for example, reported in 2009 that a parent's rejection of a child's sexual orientation fuels mental health problems.

And in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found nearly half of all transgender students — 43 percent — experienced bullying on school property, compared to 18 percent of cisgender students. Roughly 30 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth experienced bullying compared to 17 percent of nonqueer youth. 

The CDC numbers are even more disturbing when you look at the violent threats these students experience. Nearly 30 percent of trans students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared to 7 percent of cisgender students. About 16 percent of gay and lesbian students said they’d been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, and 11 percent of bisexual youth reported the same. That’s compared to just 7 percent of nonqueer youth. 

The harmful, and potentially deadly, impacts of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill have been widely reported. Republicans looking to score political points by advancing this oppressive legislation — on the faulty premise of protecting children, no less — are actually engaging in child abuse. And if the bill is signed into law, these lawmakers will bear accountability for their cruelty.