US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has said that Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill is “dangerous” and could lead to more deaths by suicide.
Under the proposed legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, any talk of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida’s state public schools – from kindergarten to fifth grade – will be banned and liable to a lawsuit.
Those in opposition to the bill urge that erasing LGBT+ presence from schools implies that it is something to be ashamed of, and worse it could “kill kids”, say critics.
Mr Buttigieg, who is a gay man, said the bill will contribute to “shocking levels of suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among LGBT+ youths”. The legislation will “tell youths who are different, or whose families are different, that there is something wrong with them out of the gate”, he told CNN.
The Trevor Project’s 2021 national survey on LGBT+ youth mental health found that 42 per cent of young people who identify as LGBT+ seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
Military veteran Buttigieg referenced his own family structure, he and his husband Chasten have twins. “As my husband pointed out, if our kids some Monday morning come into class …. and everyone is talking about how their weekends went, if they say ‘I had the best weekend with my dads’ is the teacher supposed to say ‘no we don’t talk about that here’?”
He concluded by taking down the misguided Republican idea that the proposed law will protect families: “At any age where it’s appropriate to talk about a kids’ mom and dad it should be appropriate to talk about a kids’ mom and mom or dad and dad, whatever family structures we live with – that’s part of what it means to be pro-family, to be pro every family.”
The White House has strongly condemned the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. “Conservative politicians in Florida advanced legislation designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids,” said a statement on the official Twitter account on Tuesday. “Instead of making growing up harder for young people, @POTUS is focused on keeping schools open and supporting students’ mental health.”
President Biden has denounced the bill as “hateful” and reiterated the point on his @POTUS account on Tuesday. “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community – especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill – to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
Learning environments need to be safe spaces, Heather Wilkie of the Zebra Coalition, a Central Florida LGBTQ advocacy group told ABC News. If it’s not safe “it’s not an effective learning environment,” she said.
Equality Florida’s Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer argued in a passionate speech at a hearing about the bill that LGBT+ people are a normal healthy part of society, “we are parents, students and teachers, we are your brothers and your sisters. Conversations about us aren’t something dangerous that should be banned,” he said.
“There are a lot of issues that ought to be approached with care, and how we respectfully talk about them with our children – religion, politics … death and the meaning of life – but this bill doesn’t speak to any of those.
“It’s only talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, and it’s stigmatising because of that. Sexual orientation and gender identity are about who we love and who we are, if you are worried about teaching students about sexual activities then regulate that – but don’t use this as a front to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity. We already have statutes on age-appropriate sexual education, so this bill adds nothing to that. It’s about finding a place to erase our existence.”
Republican Representative Joe Harding, sponsor of the legislation said the bill will “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing and control of their children”.
If the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passes, it would go into effect on 1 July.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.