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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Concerns about impact of new Florida law on LGBTQIA+ youth


What bothers Dana Ortgiesen ’22 most about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, as critics have dubbed it, is its impact on young people in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“I think that this will just do so much harm to students who both know that they’re queer and students who don’t even realize that it’s a thing that you can be, queer, trans,” said Ortgiesen, who is vice president of SJU Pride. “My heart breaks for all queer students in Florida.”

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557 into law on March 28. It passed the Florida House of Representatives on March 8, prompting protests around the state.

The legislation, formally named “The Parental Rights in Education” bill, prohibits the discussion of sexuality and gender-expression in the classroom for kids in kindergarten through third grade. In all, the bill aims to give parents more control over conversations about sexuality or gender identity in their children’s schools as well as mental health and counseling support services offered to their children. 

Some educators who are members or allies of the LGBT community worry that the bill will make it harder for some children to feel comfortable discussing the topic with their teachers.  

“We need to be able to provide our LGBTQIA+ youth the safe spaces and safe people with whom they can confide in and be helped through their transition,” Chris Heasley, Ed.D., assistant professor of educational leadership, said in an interview with The Hawk before the bill was signed into law. “This bill has the opportunity to prevent that from happening.”

Ortgiesen, who wrote a March 23 opinion column on the bill for The Hawk, said she believes that discussions of gender and sexuality in the classroom are essential to understanding which teachers are safe for students to talk to. She said she understands firsthand how important it is for young people to have a teacher they trust, regardless of the grade they’re in. 

Although the current bill deals with primary school students, Ortgiesen said she is grateful for the teacher who helped her while she was discovering her identity in high school.

“I had felt so comfortable coming to [my teacher] because of her previously expressed support for the LGBT community,” Ortgiesen said. “I wouldn’t have been able to feel comfortable talking to her about it if I didn’t know. I don’t think straight people realize how important teacher support can be, especially from a young age.” 

Amy Lipton, Ph.D., is a professor of finance and a member of The Alliance, a committee of St. Joe’s faculty, students and staff who “support education, tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect around the complex issues of human sexuality and sexuality and sexual orientation within the context of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and our mission as a Jesuit, Catholic University,” according to the group’s website. 

Lipton said she believes the law could backfire by making children afraid to talk to their teachers. 

“I find it problematic on a lot of levels,” Lipton said. “You’re further marginalizing kids who already have a higher feeling of marginalization and are at higher risk for mental health problems.”

Heasley, a speaker for the 2022 Day of Dialogue session “Race and Gender Terminology,” said his worry about the law stems from his perspective as a parent as well.

“Children at this age can be transformative in how they view the world, and it can be a really inclusive thought process and an inclusive value,” Heasley said. “Things like this are pulling them away from that discovery.”

Heasley said he is also concerned about the law as a form of “educational gag order.”

“That term is used widely in [the education field], especially related to any kind of law or legislation that individual states are putting forth that is looking to restrict curriculum or discussion that teachers and school employees have in terms of their interactions with the students with whom they teach,” Heasley said. 

In a March 10 guest column for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Eric T. Turner Jr., Ed.D., a graduate student in St. Joe’s writing studies program, wrote about his experiences as a Black gay man who teaches kindergarten in Philadelphia. In his column, Turner described measures like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as an attack on the most vulnerable students. 

“Kids, especially Black and LGBTQ+ kids, will be unrepresented and ignored, suffering because of adults who have nothing to prove other than how loud their bigotry is,” Turner wrote. 

In an interview with The Hawk, Turner said he was disappointed but not surprised to hear that the bill was signed into law.

“I just think it’ll build a culture of shame and build a culture of vigilantism,” Turner said. “I just think it’s a slippery slope, especially for teachers. If anything, the fight continues. That’s the best way I can put it.”

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