Controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill comes to Georgia

Illustration by Lauryn Johnson | The Signal

On Feb. 24, 2022, the Florida House of Representatives signed off on the Parental Rights in Education Bill, a widely controversial bill that opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The bill will allow parents to sue a school district if a teacher or staff member discusses sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that is “age-inappropriate” in elementary schools.

On Mar. 8, the bill reached the Florida Senate, which passed the bill that day. The Florida Senate is handing over the bill to Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who has said he will sign off on the bill when it reaches his desk.

The same day the Florida Senate signed off on the bill, 10 Georgia Republicans introduced a highly similar bill in the Georgia Senate.

Georgia’s bill is called the “Common Humanity in Private Education Act.” While the bill won’t have enough time to pass during this session, Georgia’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill could have heavy implications for LGBT Georgians and their families if it returns in the future.

Supporters of the bill say that it would keep age-inappropriate conversations out of the classroom and give parents more control over the content their children come across.

In particular, DeSantis said he believed that the Florida version of the bill would prevent classroom discussion of “transgenderism.”

“When you look at the bill, and it says ‘no sexual instruction to kids pre-K through three,’ how many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?” DeSantis told CBS Miami at a press conference.

“It’s basically saying for our younger students, do you really want them being taught about sex? And this is any sexual stuff. But I think right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that.”

Opponents of “Don’t Say Gay” bills argue that discussions of sexual identity and gender identity are not age-inappropriate and that children of any age can identify as LGBTQ+.

The bill may make LGBT children feel alienated from  peers and teachers. It may even disallow kids from talking about LGBTQ+ issues with family members or friends.

Anthony Michael Kreiss, a law professor at Georgia State, explained the implications of Georgia’s version of the bill on the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a profoundly hateful piece of legislation that will harm Georgia’s children, chill speech and will be used as a cudgel to attack LGBTQ+ people and their supporters as pedophiles,” Kreiss said. “It serves no interest but a bare desire to harm.”

Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ political advocacy group and the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights group in Florida, voiced its opposition to the bill and those like it. Georgia’s version borrows from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, using similar language.

“While the bill [was made] to race Donald Trump to the right and curry favor with an extremist political base, it has terrifying consequences,” Brandon Wolf, the Press Secretary at Equality Florida, said.

“It would further stigmatize LGBTQ+ people, isolate already vulnerable young people, and chill attempts to create inclusive school environments. LGBTQ+ people are a normal, healthy part of society.”

“We deserve to be seen, acknowledged, and celebrated just like everyone else, not demonized and used as political pawns,” Wolf added.

Senators have introduced  “Don’t Say Gay” bills in Texas and Tennessee and  have garnered nationwide attention from civil rights groups. The CEO of GLAAD, Sarah Kate, voiced her concerns about the potential changes in schools’ policies.

GLAAD is one of the largest media monitoring organizations globally, focusing on portrayals of LGBT people.

“School should be a place where students learn and find acceptance, [now] talking about LGBTQ people is a crime,” on her Twitter.

“This proposal injects poisonous and dangerous politics into classrooms [with] LGBTQ+ students and students with LGBTQ+ parents.”

Georgia’s bill  received unique opposition from Georgia’s largest LGBT equality groups. Georgia Equality collected over 2,500 signatures against the bill on a petition that ended on Mar. 17.

According to Wes Han-Burgess, Director of Development and Communications at Georgia Equality, this is the seventh anti-LGBT bill the group has helped stop since 2021.

“LGBTQ+ students and families have just as much right to see themselves reflected in the classroom, the library, and on the field of play as other students do, but the attacks won’t stop here,” they wrote.

“This fight will continue after the legislature adjourns, through the rest of the year, and next.”