Rights Behind the Headlines: Gov. DeSantis political gimmicks harm LGBTQ+ students and families

Rights Behind the Headlines is a new blog series from the ACLU of Florida that dispels misinformation and gives Floridians critical information about the most pressing issues facing our state. Read the full series at aclufl.org/rightsbehindtheheadlines  

Today, we’re dispelling claims from Gov. DeSantis who signed bills into law earlier this year in an effort to fight what he describes as “school indoctrination.” What these laws actually do is restrict the accuracy of how history and subjects related to race and gender discrimination are taught in Florida schools and workplaces. These laws also give parents the ability to sue school districts if a school subject makes their child uncomfortable.  Read the headline from the New York Times here: Back to School in DeSantis’s Florida, as Teachers Look Over Their Shoulders

The harmful “Don’t Say Gay” law (House Bill 1557) is already having a negative impact on Florida teachers and schools and isolating LGBTQ+ students and faculty. 

All educators and students have a right to teach and learn free from censorship or discrimination. According to EducationWeek, fifteen states have passed similar legislation over the past year, and 26 others have introduced bills attempting to restrict these lessons. 

Florida teachers are now inundated with avoiding lawsuits, instead of focusing on teaching and supporting students. Some Florida schools have already stripped books related to LGBTQ+ issues from their libraries. Florida teachers have described removing pride flags from their classrooms, and confusion over whether they can display photos of same-sex spouses or their families on their desks. Others have left the state to pursue other opportunities amid this toxic environment and in search of higher salaries. According to 19thNews, in July, Florida had roughly 9,000 personal openings. Nearly half are teacher positions. Florida also ranks 48th out of 50 nationwide in teachers’ salaries. 

Learning about queer heroes in history, and sharing stories of queer family members does not make someone LGBTQ+. Censoring classroom discussions won’t keep kids from being LGBTQ+. The educational stories of iconic queer figures will be left out of the classroom because of this harmful law that rejects LGBTQ+ identities. This political tactic is simply part of a nationwide effort to erase LGBTQ+ stories and people. 

Florida's LGBTQ+ youth already face family rejection, social isolation, and homelessness —issues that can be compounded by stigma in Black, brown, and other marginalized communities. Restricting classroom discussion on LGBTQ+ people is extremely harmful and only diminishes these issues. Florida's educators and LGBTQ+ youth and families need support, especially in safe spaces like schools.  

These political gimmicks only hurt Florida’s students and teachers. Instead of focusing on vacancies and increasing teachers’ pay and resources, DeSantis created a program to allow retired law enforcement, first responders, and veterans to become teachers. This program gives veterans without a bachelor’s degree the ability to obtain a temporary teaching certificate, which lowers the credentials necessary to become a teacher. 

LGBTQ+ youth and families are being harmed by lawmakers to score political points and unleash an extremist, ultra-conservative agenda that silences and stigmatizes communities.

We have a message for those lawmakers: You will not win.