Another Year of Queer Rage, Thanks to Anti-LGBTQ Legislation
Recently, I was chatting on Facebook with someone, and I called 2022 as my “year of queer rage.” Not surprising when 2022 was an epic year for anti-lgbtq legislation with 315 bills filed attacking the queer community. Thankfully, ninety one percent of these bills failed to pass (while twenty four bills protecting the queer community did pass.)
But already by mid-February 2023, over 300 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation had already been filed. While ninety one of them are attacks on gender affirming care, a total of eighty three involve somehow attacking what is essentially freedom of expression. Among these bills there are more “Don’t Say Gay” laws (which I wrote a series of pieces about last year,) bills aimed at banning drag performances and a dozen or more trying to use laws to define trans people out of existence (something the Trump administration tried to do about five years ago by claiming that gender was a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” a stance which confuses the social construct of gender with the biological definition of sex, and also contradicts what we know about the biology of chromosomal sex.)
Folks, I’m tired.
If the Hailstorm of Anti-LGBTQ Legislation Continues, 2024 Might be the Year of Queer Going to Bed Early with a Headache
Trying to condense twelve months of fighting into two months is not easy. Especially when I can look at the calendar and see another ten months to go this year alone. And with a presidential election coming up in 2024, I can only imagine that things will get worse, not better. That the battles will get bigger, more contentious.
That I’ll have to listen to more and more voices getting louder and louder, talking about how terrible, unnatural, broken, and dangerous I am.
And why are they calling me, a human being, all of these things? As near as I can tell, it’s because I want the same human rights for queer people that other people have. And I want children who realize they’re queer not to have to white-knuckle the urge to commit suicide until they’re old enough to go to college or rent their first place.
I Remember Pro-LGBTQ Legislation… and I Remember Optimism
Decades of this same fight, over and over again. I started to believe things would get better. Even watched them get better. I watched the Reagan-era bigotry that fueled the AIDS crisis begin to fall apart and saw Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and saw Bowers v Hardwick overturned by Lawrence v Texas. And the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
In the early nineties, right around the time I was beginning to sort out my own feelings (and several years before I was actually ready to say anything about my own bisexuality out loud,) a few brave couples in Hawai’i began to challenge prohibitions on same gender marriage. And even if I wasn’t quite able to express why it mattered so much to me, I knew I had strong feelings about the debate. It was also clear that talking about those feelings was risky. So I kept my thoughts about marriage equality mostly to myself, and was greatly disappointed when, in spite of the Hawai’i’s state Supreme Court declaring that the state constitution granted marriage rights to everyone, the state legislature decided to continue to deny it to some couples.
…Defense Of Marriage Act Notwithstanding
And the federal government, too, passed the Defense of Marriage Act, denying recognition of marriages performed by the states and allowing individual states to choose whether or not recognize same gender marriages performed in other states. But that was overturned, even if it did take almost twenty years to do it.
So things were getting better. They were edging towards good, even. Obviously there was still work to do: conversion therapy is still legal in a lot of places, anti-bullying/school safety issues need work, and a whole lot to do with so many other things like child custody, reproductive health and other nondiscrimination issues. But it felt like things were slowly moving in a positive direction.
The Rising Tide of Anti-LGBTQ Legislation Started around 2015
And then it began to slowly fall apart. In 2015, the same year marriage equality passed, a hundred and twenty five anti-LGBTQ+ bills came before state legislatures. In 2016, South Carolina passed their anti trans bathroom bill, one of a hundred and seventy five bills that were submitted that year. Five years later, 2021 was declared “The Worst Year in Recent History” for anti-LGBTQ legislation and was soon surpassed by 2022’s collection of three hundred and fifteen bills. 2022 also gave us the Club Q shooting to wind down the year. 2023 has already told 2022 “hold my beer,” with almost four hundred pieces of anti LGBTQ+ legislation introduced by the first week in March.
No wonder I’m tired.
Queer issues were the subject of half of the pieces I wrote last year! I started the year with “Don’t Say Gay” and ended the year musing on safety, allyship and what it’s like to be mostly back in the closet for my own protection right now. In 2023, there are at least eleven anti-lgbtq+ bills pending in the Florida state legislature, (I talked about three of them last week,) all of which are likely to pass and be signed into law.
Florida Man is a Homophobe
Florida is, according to our governor, the state where “…woke goes to die.” But protecting that hate and bigotry by law just adds fuel to the cultural fires that cause so much trauma already for queer people. And Florida is set on doing that with current bills in the legislation targeting public accommodations, education, free speech, getting an accurate ID, and family life and human rights.
A year ago, Florida kicked off its attempts at eradicating the simple idea that queer people exist with their “Don’t Say Gay” law. While the law on paper says it affects kindergarten through grade 3, when it’s combined with the book bans and the rules for challenging books that favor those who are bringing the challenge, (and don’t require that one has actually read the book, the “Don’t Say Gay” agenda already extends beyond third grade.
And this year, the legislature is trying to extend their “Don’t Say Gay” plan–which, lest we forget, is a plan for ending queerness–with even more legislation. SB 1320 and its companion bill HB 1223 would extend the “Don’t Say Gay” limits on classroom discussion and education on sexual orientation and gender identity from Pre-K through eighth grade. Any instruction in grades nine through twelve has to be done in “a manner that is age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Florida’s Anti-LGBTQ Legislation Contradicts Itself
A bit of background: Florida, just doesn’t make much sense here. While trying to force the idea that being lgbtq+ is only about sex, (and not about living a full and authentic life like anyone else) some of these proposed changes would create situations where new laws might contradict old ones and where school districts could be left scrambling to update their materials and train teachers on them. Florida students in grade six through twelve have to receive “comprehensive health education” that includes information about teenage pregnancy, but proposed laws would forbid “saying gay” until high school. Sex education, per se, is not required at any point in health education. Furthermore, it is offered, there’s no requirement that the sex education specifically, is comprehensive or medically accurate. There’s no requirement that sex ed includes discussions about consent, but it is required to emphasize heterosexual marriage and abstinence.
So. They’re telling us teachers can’t say gay until ninth grade, a time long after most kids have begun to deal with having “those” feelings for someone. The average age kids get their first kiss is between fourteen and fifteen, coincidentally also the typical age of a ninth grader. Is it really wise to wait until kids are actually getting kissed before we talk about who they might or might not be interested in kissing?
The Benefits of Inclusive Sex Education
Inclusive sex education is really important. It keeps all our kids safer. Kids who receive comprehensive, inclusive sex education are more likely to delay their first sexual experiences, and to make safer, healthier choices when they do have sex. They’re less likely to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs when they choose to have sex.They contract HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) at lower rates.
Abstinence-until-marriage sex education is really isolating for queer kids, who may not be able to envision themselves or imagine themselves married. In addition to legislative attacks on marriage equality in the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade, “Don’t Say Gay” sets up a system where kids learn that nontraditional families are less valuable, and that kids in those families don’t do as well or deserve as much as kids in traditional families. With higher rates of low self-esteem and mental health issues, they’re also likely to be making riskier choices.
When sex ed includes LGBTQ kids, they experience less bullying and social isolation. Their mental health is better, and that means fewer suicide attempts. And fewer completed suicides. Dead kids can’t grow up to be voters. I suppose for some politicians, more bullying of queer kids might be a good thing. Same with fewer adults who are likely to vote liberal/left. If you think this is hyperbole, you haven’t seen how many death-threats queer people receive from conservatives on social medial. It’s like rain, but all the time.
Inclusive Sex Education and Consent
Inclusive sex education requires talking about consent, too. Kids are the perfect audience for teaching all about Consent FRIES. That consent must be:
These lessons about consent aren’t unique to queer or straight students. And they’re not exclusive to sexual relationships. They’re important tools for anyone to have in negotiating healthy relationships and staying safe, but especially queer kids who are at higher risk of experiencing sexual or intimate partner violence. And especially when half of all trans people and bi women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, with almost half of the bi women who are raped having their first experience with rape between age eleven and age seventeen.
When Kids Learn to Consent, they Also Learn to Dissent
The biggest offense to state legislators here, and to some parents as well, may be the fact that teaching about consent as part of health education teaches kids that their voices matter, and that they have the right to say “no.” But depriving kids of an opportunity to learn about and reinforce these skills goes much further than just navigating sex and sexual relationships. Learning about safety, consent and refusal is really one of the best protections kids have against grooming by actual predators, not by the drag queens and other queer adults who these kids may be around. Besides, if kids learn they can say “no” to sex, what else might they say “no” to?
When we’re talking about education, of course we’ve got to talk about curriculum and instruction, too. Don’t think the Florida legislature hasn’t tried to de-queer and un-woke that this session. Obviously we’ve got the existing “Don’t Say Gay” laws, and the attempts to expand that, but the legislation has also gone after the reproductive health curricula.
Just Some of the Anti-LGBTQ Legislation Coming out of Florida
HB 1069 and HB 1223 along with SB 1320 all have provisions trying to redefine how materials relating to reproductive and sexual health are reviewed and adopted. I question whether at least some parts of SB 1320 aren’t simply a reactionary response to what happened in the Miami-Dade school district earlier this year.
In July of this year, the Miami-Dade school district rejected two health and sex education books over fears that they might violate the “Don’t Say Gay” law (aka “Parental Rights in Education” law.) This would have left their students without a health and sex education curriculum for this school year because there wouldn’t be time to review and approve alternative materials. The books were rejected in part, because some parents believed the lessons went beyond what schools should be teaching students about sex. Others, however, felt the lessons included are necessary for students to learn.
A week after the textbooks were rejected, the school board reversed their decision, angering many parents, who claimed a lack of transparency. SB 1320 appears to fix this issue by, in part, shifting the responsibility of reviewing and approving materials used to teach about reproductive health or diseases to the Department of Education, rather than allowing the materials to be selected and reviewed at the local level.
Republicans Hate Government Overreach… Except when they’re the Ones Doing It
The school board knows the local community. They know their needs, they know their challenges. They know the local culture. Which religious organizations have the greatest influence. Which ethnic groups are in the area. They have the best perspective on how to serve the community and means, in part, choosing the materials that are used for classroom instruction. Centralizing this at the state level though, means all of those local influences are lost. It means kids in rural parts of Florida with more homogeneous populations, will only have access to the same materials as kids in very diverse areas like Miami or Orlando. How many students are we serving well when we’re assuming they’re all the same?
Florida already allows any parent to opt their child out of sex education. So this flurry of laws is redundant at best. These laws are not being passed because they are urgently needed to save kids’ lives. They’re being passed because they’re urgently needed to deflect scrutiny from the corruption and cronyism and quid-pro-quo nonsense of the DeSantis administration. I guess it’s nice to know, as one of the people targeted by these laws, and as a friend of the people targeted by these laws, that it’s nothing personal.
If you like what you’ve read here, help keep the site going and