LGBTQ parents think of moving from Florida, citing laws that target their children
Fear. Worry. Dread. Shock. These are among the emotions expressed in a survey of LGBTQ parents in Florida on the impact of what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law.
A survey of more than 100 LGBTQ parents in Florida found more than half are thinking about leaving the state because of the law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
The contentious law, approved last year by the Republican−majority Florida Legislature, drew intense national scrutiny from critics who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
The survey of 113 queer parents, conducted by Clark University and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, examined the effects of the Parental Rights in Education law — the one opponents have slammed as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The survey was done between June 13-Sept. 9, 2022.
“The Don’t Say Gay bill claims to be for parent rights, but my rights have been taken away since its passage,” said one parent surveyed in the Clark Univ. / UCLA study.
“My right to send my daughter to school freely, my right to live without fear of who I am, my right to not be discriminated against based on my sexual orientation, and my daughter to not be discriminated against based on her parents’ sexual orientation,” they added.
The survey found 56% of LGBTQ parents were considering leaving Florida in the wake of the "Don't Say Gay" law — and 17% have already taken steps to move.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans have defended the law, HB 1557, as reasonable, saying that parents — not teachers — should be broaching subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with their children.
“The Don’t Say Gay bill claims to be for parent rights, but my rights have been taken away since its passage."A queer parent surveyed in the study
The current Florida law bans classroom discussion on the topics in kindergarten through third grade, and also prohibits any material that isn’t considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate" for other grades.
Supporters of the measure have used harmful and long-standing false claims that queer people are more likely to molest children.
The law has had far-reaching effects — pushing some teachers to consider leaving the classroom and leading school districts to ban certain books.
Public backlash against the law has included Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and condemnation from LGBTQ advocacy groups. Democratic President Joe Biden called it “hateful” following its passage.
The study's author, Clark University psychology professor Abbie Goldberg, cautioned that the survey results are not representative of all LGBTQ parents in the state, and may vary based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. But she said the responses are revealing.
"It's really just one piece of the larger picture — which is for many folks feeling increasingly hostile and really oppressive. And that that actually affects families," Goldberg said. "A fifth of them are feeling less safe. And they're feeling like they can't walk down the street holding their partner's hand."
Parents, students and advocates have noted that LGBTQ kids are far more likely than their heterosexual peers to consider suicide, and that fallout from HB 1557 could make things even worse.
“Research has established that anti-LGBTQ legislation has both direct and indirect effects on LGBTQ+ parents and their mental health, in part via its effects on social climate, including community, neighborhood, and school climate,” the study reads.
“Likewise, both children of LGBTQ parents [...] and LGBTQ youth have been found to report greater victimization when they live in communities and attend schools that they perceive to be hostile to LGBTQ identities.”
According to the study, the parents surveyed have taken a number of steps to cope with the political climate, including by becoming more involved in activism, avoiding the news, and leaning on friends and family for support. Eleven percent also considered moving their kids to schools that would not be directly affected by the law, i.e. private schools.
"They really worried that their children wouldn't be able to speak freely about their own families at school, that teachers wouldn't be affirming and supportive, if for example a peer is making fun of their child for having two moms or having two dads," Goldberg said. "They felt that their children would not actually have access to an equal education."
"[The larger picture] is for many folks feeling increasingly hostile and really oppressive. And that that actually affects families. A fifth of them are feeling less safe. And they're feeling like they can't walk down the street holding their partner's hand."Clark University psychology professor Abbie Goldberg, the study's author
The downstream effects of the law continue to ripple through the state — Broward County Public Schools recently considered significantly scaling back its sex education curriculum for an abstinence-only based approach, but the school board tabled the proposal, which members said was a “dangerous” overreaction to changes in state law.
According to Plantation High School sophomore Eric Franzblau, some of his teachers fear they run the risk of losing their jobs if they say the wrong thing, because of the restrictions passed by state officials.
“A lot of my teachers are scared of what's happening. They're afraid of losing their jobs,” he told WLRN last month. “Speaking of students, a lot of them know the conditions that they are in and that their education is in. They're — for lack of a better word — they're pissed off.”
Now, state officials are considering expanding HB 1557. On April 19, the Florida Board of Education is expected to vote on a proposal that would ban classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from pre-K to 12th grade.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
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