The Uncertain Future of LGBTQ Youth in Florida

Jade Lee '24

This March, the famous, world-renowned entertainment company, Disney failed to join the 150 companies that had signed a Human Rights Campaign letter opposing Florida’s controversial HB 1557. Frustrated and unsatisfied by the lack of action, on March 22nd, around 70 Disney employees walked out in protest. Those who had participated stated that they are either members of the LGBTQ community or its allies.

So what exactly is this HB 1557? And why were there so many employees at Disney who were against it? [1]

Well, Disney employees aren’t the only ones in protest of this bill; quite a lot of people are against it.

HB 1557, otherwise known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill, or more infamously in the media, the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, was finally approved by Floridian legislation in March. Back when the bill’s idea was first suggested, many LGBTQ activists and allies voiced their disapproval and concerns for the direction the bill was heading.

Here’s what the bill really does: it limits what teachers can teach to their students, instead giving the rights to parents to oversee the teaching of what the bill claims to be sensitive topics. Conservatives, the main drive behind this bill, reason that parents should be able to have a say in what students learn in the classroom, which includes discussions of sexualities and gender identities. The law states the following, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” [2]

Danny Burgess, a Republican in the Florida State Senate also stated, “This bill says parents, your right to raise your children does not end when they walk into a classroom. This bill recognizes that parents are not the enemies.” He adds, “The bill simply says that there should be an age limit on certain discussions, it’s not a new concept, nor is it radical.” [3] Additionally, Dennis Baxley, a member of Florida’s Senate and also the leading force behind this legislation, claimed that his main cause was due to his concern for children “experimenting” with their sexual identities. Other fellow supporters added how parents were dissatisfied that teachers were discussing topics like sexuality and gender identity without their consent with their students. [2]

Opposers, mainly comprised of LGBTQ activists and democrats, including President Joe Biden, argue that this law, which shuts down discussion of sexuality and gender identities, would marginalize and endanger an already oppressed group. As Annette Taddeo, a Democrat in the Florida Senate, had said before the approval of the legislation, “This is going to endanger the safety of our LGBTQ students and adolescents.” [3] They reason that not only would it prevent teachers from properly educating children on such topics, it would also increase the stigmatization of the LGBTQ community, further isolating them. [4]

Furthermore, school districts in Florida will be required to “adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being”, which opposers of the bill believe could lead to forcible outings of LGBTQ students, as well as diminish the trust a student may have for guidance counselors, who may be the only trusted adult in a student’s life. Any violation of this could result in a parent filing a lawsuit against the school district. [2]

The fight between the two sides will probably be long and difficult. On one hand, HB 1557 has already been approved by legislators, but at the same time, a huge wave of opponents have appeared in response to it, including 150 different corporations, child health and welfare groups, [4] a large number of legislators, and huge numbers of high school students. [2] Disney, for example, in response to their employee’s protests, wrote an official statement, “We respect our colleagues’ right to express their views, and we pledge our ongoing support of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community in the fight for equal rights.” [1]

Although the line for what is “appropriate” to teach in the classroom is considerably blurry, many fear that this is only the beginning of a restrictive future for LGBTQ youth, especially with the increasing number of laws that specifically target them throughout the entire country.

What awaits LGBTQ youth in Florida is uncertain.