NEWS OPINION

I’m Teaching My Kids to "Say Gay," And Hoping For a Future Where We’re All Freer

Children holding gay pride poster

FatCamera / Getty Images

The other day my 8-year-old daughter was writing in her journal, listing the characteristics of each member of our family (including the cat and the dog, of course). She noted age, race, pronouns, and sexual orientation. Our favorite colors may have also made the cut. When it came to her sexual orientation, and that of her 12-year-old brother, she carefully penciled in big question marks, explaining, “Because we don’t know yet.”  

In my mind, this was a sweet moment shared between a first grader and her two moms. But between the open question of one of my children's sexual orientation and my daughter’s observation that we should be using they/them pronouns for the pets, I imagine it as some sort of nightmare scenario for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who on Monday signed into law HB 1557, popularly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2022, in the middle of summer break. 

HB 1557 gets its name from lines 97-101 of the text, which read, “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.” 

The law is designed to have a chilling effect, scaring teachers from mentioning that anyone is queer.

The language is purposefully vague. The bill allows families to sue schools for violating its directives, and nonspecific terms like "age-appropriate" give people ample room to find fault, even beyond the K-through-3 window it specifies. Districts must then cover their own expenses should any such lawsuits arise.

The law is designed to have a chilling effect, scaring teachers from mentioning that anyone is queer. Picture books like And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising a baby chick, and Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which dares to assert that some families have two moms and some families have two dads, will be relegated to storage lockers. 

Whether it's a question mark to represent orientation or the nonbinary ladybug my daughter wrote about another time, Florida teachers would feel pressed to respond with silence. That sends an unmistakable message to all students: We don’t talk about that here. 

The law, which has been roundly criticized and called “hateful” by U.S. President Joe Biden, is designed to prevent children in Florida schools from suffering the sort of "chaos" that my wife and I subject our kids to when we teach them that they are the sole authorities on their gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Except, there is no chaos. My son and daughter are fine. Sure, our house can get embarrassingly messy and they don’t always eat their vegetables, but they seem to be surviving pretty well under our radical gay agenda of personal autonomy and acceptance.  

The scientific and medical consensus supports our policy of allowing kids to express their own identities without fear or shame. In a statement condemning HB 1557, the American Psychological Association said, “Prohibiting classroom discussion on these topics sends the message that identifying as LGBTQ is inherently wrong, stigmatizing and marginalizing children who may realize their difference at a young age. Psychological research has shown that increased social isolation and stigma can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even suicide.”

The Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a statement, saying, “As pediatricians, we know that exploring one’s identity is a normal part of child development. School should be a place that encourages this process for all children, offering a safe space for sharing accurate information.” 

A Florida child who is questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation will quickly learn that queerness is a topic inappropriate for school.

Under this law, a young child in Florida who discusses their gender identity or sexual orientation can expect to watch their teachers squirm and avert their eyes. They may conclude that people believe part of who they are is wrong. Research shows these kids are more likely to consider suicide. And the rejection kids feel extends well into adulthood. Queer adults like me, who can now marry, become parents, and even join the military, spend decades grappling with the long-term effects of this discrimination. Many of us are thriving, but addiction and other self-destructive behaviors aren’t uncommon.

Erasing queer identities from the curriculum doesn't just hurt queer kids and queer families, it disadvantages everyone. HB 1557 advances the notion that there are two lanes of human existence—male and female—and a narrow set of prescribed behaviors available within each, including how you can dress, who you can love, and what interests you can pursue. It reduces the whole kaleidoscope of our experience to one restrictive frame. 

What would happen if we all grew up knowing that two men can make a home together or a person can be neither male nor female? What might that free us to explore?

Let's say we all grew up knowing that, say, two men can make a home together, or a person can be neither male nor female. Perhaps more men would become stay-at-home dads or preschool teachers, or we'd have more female engineers and pilots. What possibilities might we discover if we gave all kids permission to approach identity with a big, bold question mark, finding their own way as they grow? It might make DeSantis and his supporters uncomfortable—but, as teachers know, discomfort is often part of learning something new.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthychildren.org. Gender identity development in children.

  2. World Health Organization. Adolescent mental health.

  3. The Trevor Project. National survey on LGBTQ mental health 2021.