I don’t usually use this space for news and current affairs, but recent events have led me to write this blog post.
This week, the state of Florida passed a law that bans teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ identities with primary-age students and ensures that discussions with older students are “age appropriate”. Officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill, it says teachers cannot “encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It also says parents can sue their children’s schools for failing to adhere to these rules. (Read the news article from myGwork.)
This is all happening in the same Florida as the 2016 attack on the Latinx LGBTQ+ community in the terrible shootings at the Pulse nightclub (read more about that).
Why does it matter to me? Sitting over 4,000 miles away, what has a state bill in Florida got to do with me?
The bill is terribly reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s “section 28”, introduced in 1988. The law prevented the “promotion” of LGBTQ+ lifestyles by local authorities, including schools. The law was only repealed in 2003.
“Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated!”Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference, 1987
That law prevented so much that I needed. A proper education. Not just in English and maths but in life, relationships and sex. Let alone queer history. There was no LGBTQ+ History Month when I was growing up!
Instead, at age 11 and knowing I was “different”, I was left without the vocabulary I so needed to understand who I was. There were no books in the library that might feature a character like me. And while the draconian law was repealed in my secondary school days, its impact was far longer lasting.
I was in my 20s before I read any books that featured someone like me. It’s a lonely world if you don’t know that there are others out there.
And that’s why laws like Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill matter to the whole LGBTQ+ community. It’s the young people that it impacts the most and the impacts will stay with them for a long time.
Laws like this invalidate someone’s existence, someone’s feelings. It cuts off young people, those who need it most, from support. There can be no fellowship, no community, if the people that should be populating that community cannot talk about what makes them, them.
From this side of the pond, I cannot do anything with any real political impact. I can write blog posts, sure. I can share information and I can share the impact that it had on me. I can lend my support to those who are fighting this law.
As LGBTQ+ matters go, this is important.
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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