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  • Writer's pictureyannick-robin eike mirko

Don't Ask, Don't Tell + Don't Say Gay

Updated: Jan 31

Politicians, they’re after us…

There have been a number of varying ways politicians within the Republican space have taken their personal grievances with TGNC individuals into their workplace, proposing bills banning the equal rights of others, despite access to equality doing nothing but good for society as a whole. The history of anti-trans bills saw a swell in proposals within the last few years, with more than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced in 41 states in 2023 alone, 75 of such becoming law per the Human Rights Campaign’s count. One of which made widespread news for its Republican sponsors insisting that the legislation is about giving parents a quote, “increased say in what is taught to their children,” despite this being about state censorship at large, according to the largest libertarian student organization in the world, Students For Liberty.

On March 28th 2022, Governor of the State of Florida, Ron DeSantis, signed House Bill 1557: Parental Rights in Education ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ into action, meaning the oppression of human rights and the destruction of student privacy, initially slated to affect students up to the third grade, though the bill was expanded in 2023 to take these terms and conditions all the way up to twelfth grade, the entirety of a person’s child-student life.

What does this bill mean?

The law was initially pushed through a ‘protecting children from age-inappropriate topics’ lens, and imposes a rather divisive version of “freedom”.

The main key points this bill prohibits for school life and anything LGBTQ+ are:

  • Ban on instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, if it is deemed “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

    • Primary school can be very discussion-based (kids should be allowed to ask questions!) and so the vague nature of this law has made some schools interpret the law to mean restricting anything that could potentially start a discussion about LGBTQ+ people or issues (ie: the topic of rainbows when teaching about weather is about to get very uncomfortable, or avoided).

    • No more student-teacher confidentiality, no more Gay Straight Alliance. Despite students in troubling home situations connecting with teachers at times as adults they can trust through hard times, this new law imposes a ‘notification requirement’, meaning teachers would be obligated to report if a student told them anything about them being - or potentially becoming/coming out as - LGBTQ+.

Quality of life

[image description: a map of the United States in grey, titled “Anti-LGBT: States that have laws restricting teachers and staff from talking about LGBT issues at school” as well as the list of states with such laws - Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah - and the state displayed in red coloring on the map.]

There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding what is and isn’t safe to be open about in schools now, but we know without question that this law undermines rights to education, personal security and safety, freedom from discrimination, freedom of speech/expression, information access, privacy, and many other human rights all people would consider as fundamental. Taking a look at other states with similar anti-LGBTQ+ laws affecting school life, thanks to Human Rights Watch and the interviews with over 500 students, teachers, administrators, parents, service providers, and advocates, helps paint a better picture of what Don’t Say Gay might potentially mean for Floridians.

Areas of concern include bullying and harassment, exclusion from school curricula and resources, restrictions on LGBT student groups, and other forms of discrimination and bigotry against students and staff based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While not exhaustive, these broad issues offer a starting point for policymakers and administrators to ensure that LGBT people’s rights are respected and protected in schools.”

Kevin I., a 17-year-old trans boy in Utah spoke on the abuse he suffers at school, stating he’d been shoved into lockers, with people sometimes pushing up on him to “check if he had boobs”. The school administrators dismissed complaints, blaming Kevin for being open about his identity, rather than protecting him from bullying. Lynette G., mother of a young girl with a gay father in South Dakota, stated that her daughter once ran home from school after being teased, with people saying inexcusable things about her father while the teacher laughed, which traumatized her more. She was eight, at the time.

And the bills don’t just impact what is said: libraries are being stripped of any tangible literature involving LGBTQIA+ history, and school computers limit the sites you are allowed to access, creating a dead end for students without access to resources like the internet or books in their living situations.

Don’t Say Gay through the lens of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

For an example of how terrifying things can get, we can take a look into a report by a panel of senior retired military officers done in 2008 by the University of California, which takes a look into the history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” within the military, a law which banned “homosexuals” and “homosexual conduct” from all armed forces services in 1994, and was in place for 17 years. The study group found ten major findings, including:

  1. The law locks the military’s position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances

  2. Existing military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct

  3. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining the cohesion of their units

  4. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has prevented some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling

  5. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has caused the military to lose some talented service members

  6. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has compelled some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to lie about their identity

  7. Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving openly

  8. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has made it harder for some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to perform their duties

  9. Military attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing

  10. Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion

Here is what the study group offered up as recommendations to bring human rights back to LGBTQIA+ people in the military, which could loosely inspire what needs to happen so Don’t Say Gay ceases to exist:

“Recommendation 1. Congress should repeal 10 USC § 654 and return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense. Recommendation 2. The Department of Defense should eliminate “don’t tell” while maintaining current authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and service regulations to preclude misconduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and unit cohesion. The prerogative to disclose sexual orientation should be considered a personal and private matter. Recommendation 3. Remove from Department of Defense directives all references to “bisexual,” “homosexual,” “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual acts,” and “propensity.” Establish in their place uniform standards that are neutral with respect to sexual orientation, such as prohibitions against any inappropriate public bodily contact for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires. Recommendation 4. Immediately establish and reinforce safeguards for the confidentiality of all conversations between service members and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.”

The Future of Don’t Say Gay

[image description: a map of the United States in grey, titled “States With ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bills: 42 such bills in 24 states have been introduced since 2021” as well as the key to the differently colored states on the map, with dark blue signifying states where at least one bill is progressing through the state house, light blue representing states where a bill was passed into law, and red demonstrating the states where one or more bills have died.]

Florida isn’t the only place working on restrictions like these, in fact, it inspired quite a few. And if things weren’t scary enough, both sides of the political playing field are in on this now. Of the 22 states currently working to pass similar bills, seven of them have Democratic governors: Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. According to Education Weekly, of the 42 bills, 30 are progressing through statehouses, 11 are dead, and one - Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill - has been passed into law. The progress can be tracked on their website.


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