Florida’s LGBTQ advocates are rallying to support young people in light of ‘Don’t Say Gay’

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Supporters gathered for a Safe Schools South Florida & Friends rally to push back against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill earlier this month. The bill would ban school districts from encouraging classroom discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

(CNN)This weekend, Javi Gomez is traveling nearly 500 miles from his native Miami to Florida’s capital in Tallahassee to plead his case against a piece of legislation LGBTQ advocates are calling the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

He’s nervous. He’s ready.
In elementary school, classmates called him names for what they thought were feminine traits, like the pitch of his voice and his proclivity for hand gestures. His experiences are not unusual for a young LGBTQ person — 52% of LGBTQ middle and high schoolers said they’d been bullied either in person or electronically in the past year, according to a 2021 report from the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for queer and trans youth.
Gomez, now a high school senior, blames his former classmates’ bullying on ignorance — they “didn’t know what they were talking about or what they were saying because it was all very learned from other people,” he said.
Some exposure to LGBTQ topics — what it means to be gay, queer or transgender, and why it’s wrong to discriminate against LGBTQ people — might have helped alleviate the pain they inflicted, he said.
“Now I look back on my past, and I’ve healed,” he said. “I’ve tried to forgive. But that still doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of trauma to it.”
It’s why he’s traveling so far to speak with legislators about “Parental Rights in Education,” identical bills introduced last month in Florida’s House and Senate, that would, among other things, prohibit school districts from “encouraging” discussion of “sexual orientation or gender identity” in elementary school classrooms.
The legislation is moving through Florida’s legislature — this week, it passed the Senate Education Committee. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated his support for the bill, though there’s no timeline for when it could reach his desk. (The legislative session is up in a few weeks.)
Many opponents of the bill believe it will pass. And when it does, they say, the floodgates will open for lawmakers to introduce more extreme bills that curb the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ students. There is a lot of uncertainty about what the bill, if signed into law, would actually ban, given its broad language. But they ​say they fear for the children and teens attending schools where their identities put them under extra scrutiny and they face increased risk of abuse, especially when their homes may not be guaranteed to be supportive environments.

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