In April 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure titled “Parental Rights in Education,” also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. This law bans instruction, and even discussion, about LGBTQ+ identity in classrooms from kindergarten through third grade. For older classrooms, the law states that discussion of queer-related issues must be “age or developmentally appropriate.” Schools that violate the law may be sued by parents, opening teachers up to litigation and leaving school districts financially on the hook.
While proponents of the bill may try to mask their contempt for LGBTQ+ people in language about “choice” and “parental control,” their real underlying fears and prejudice are rooted in old stereotypes that queer people “recruit” young people into our “lifestyle.”
In some circles, the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation has been openly and hatefully referred to as an “anti-grooming” law, using language that suggests coercion and ‘dog-whistles’ offensive accusations of deviance and pedophilia.
The attack on LGBTQ+ people is not confined to Florida. Anti-trans legislation has been proposed throughout the country. More recently, on May 16,, 2022, Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina signed into law the “Save Women’s Sports Act” that bans transgender students from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity. This is particularly striking because similar measures were passed by legislatures in Indiana and Utah, but ultimately vetoed by governors in those states.
These are only a couple of examples of the toxic, hate-filled, anti-LGTBQ legislation currently proposed. According to a recent statement from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), there are currently more than 320 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country.
The Psychological Impact of Exclusion
At the center of this debate lies an important question: what does it do to the psyche of a person who identifies as LGBTQ+ when your exclusion is written and codified in the law, when the mere discussion of your identity is illegal and immoral?
One may not even have to work very hard to answer this question. The elevated risk for mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can be directly linked to the presence of discrimination. Interestingly, in communities with specific nondiscrimination policies, rates of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth are decreased, suggesting that protections for queer people at the governmental level have an impact on one’s sense of belonging and safety in the world.
What’s perhaps most infuriating is that this legislation is being introduced during a time when support of LGBTQ+ rights has grown significantly. In the 2020 American Values Atlas survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, 76 percent of adults reported that they favor laws that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. According to the survey, broad support of LGBTQ+ rights was seen across the spectrum of racial/ethnic and religious groups, an important observation given that some communities and religions continue to be seen as staunchly anti-LGBTQ+.
If the majority of Americans are in favor of LGBTQ+ rights, then why have the attacks become so pervasive? It appears that the lives and rights of LGBTQ+ persons are being used as a political wedge device. This form of dehumanization, making people into political pawns, certainly can diminish one’s sense of personhood in addition to complicating the daily existence of individuals.
Pride in Action
This year, LGBTQ+ Pride Month marks a time for more than just gathering and celebrating. With so many elements of our freedom under direct attack, allow Pride Month to serve as your own personal call to action. What can you do this month to more fully embody some of the core principles of Pride?
As tough as it may sometimes be to watch news and social media that feels overwhelmingly negative and divisive, it remains critical that we arm ourselves with knowledge of the anti-LGBTQ legislation that is being proposed and passed. Perhaps one way of being informed, while also protecting your peace, is to be more deliberate about seeking out news that affects our community. Subscribe to email newsletters from organizations such as Lambda Legal or HRC that give information about the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in our national and state capitals.
If you’re not registered to vote, do so now. If you’re already registered to vote, consider how you can get other people to vote. Perhaps you can volunteer to get others to sign up, or maybe on Election Day you can offer rides to seniors or others who may not have an easy way to get to a polling station. Given the efforts to disenfranchise so many, it’s important to remember that every single vote counts, and we should do all that we can to ensure that not only our voice is heard, but that of our entire community.
Pride month offers an opportunity for the creation of community. If you’ve never been to a Pride parade before, consider attending. There is something important and powerful about visually witnessing connection and support at that magnitude. If the idea of braving the crowds and the heat fills you with dread, are there smaller venues or opportunities to participate that would feel good for you? Many LGBTQ+ organizations are arranging activities to celebrate the many beautiful segments that make up our community. Who can you gather with that supports you and makes you feel special and valued? How can you extend that same support to others?
This month is a time to remind ourselves that as a community, the very act of living openly, being visible, and living in our truth is an act of protest. We do this not only for ourselves, but for future generations of queer folks who come behind us. Pride Month shows people that we exist, that our lives and freedoms matter, and that we are not going anywhere.
This article appears in the June 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.