Thursday, May 18, 2023

FL: Doubling Down On "Don't Say Gay"

Florida's Don't Say Gay law was carried through the legislative process with plenty of lies. Now Florida's leaders are ready to take the masks off.

Back then, the big counter-argument was "Well, what teacher needs to expose 5-8 year olds to sexual content?" Nobody needs to talk sex stuff with the littles! The other defense of the bill was that people calling it "Don't Say Gay" we're overreacting. The guy who introduced the bill, Rep. Joe Harding, was among the many saying, "Look, you can still talk about this stuff--you just can't have lessons or curriculum about it."

That, of course, all turns out to be baloney. 

Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a stack of anti-LGBTQ bills, including one that extends the reach of Don't Say Gay into high school. Where "classroom instruction by school personnel or third  parties on sexual orientation or gender identity" was previously prohibited from kindergarten through third grade, it is now prohibited in pre-K through grade 8, with some restrictions on 9-12 sex ed. 

The new version of this law also covers charter schools. Which means this law about "parental rights" further restricts a parent's right to choose a school that doesn't keep gender identity and sexual roles a secret.

It's a dumb law for many reasons, not the least of which is that sexual orientation and gender identity come up all the time. But hey, defenders of the law say, this law just prohibits instruction about them. If the subject just happens to come up, that's not illegal.

Except that's a lie, too.

Just ask Jenna Barbee. She's the teacher now under investigation by the state because she showed fifth graders the Disney flick Strange World. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has an excellent run down of what happened; you can also watch her tell her story here and I've embedded it below--it's worth a watch. The short form is that Barbee had sent out parental permission slips, showed the film, and Moms for Liberty-backed board member and parent Shannon Rodriguez went after her

“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child,” Ms Rodriguez said during the meeting, adding that the movie opened the door “for conversations that have no place in our classrooms”.

I've seen Strange World; it's an okayish Disney entry that happens to include a gay teen character. We see him crushing on the object of his affection at the beginning of the film. When the central characters leave for the main adventure, the crush is not with them, but the teen has a conversation with a family member about his love interest, and they talk about it from a "how do you handle being really interested in someone" angle--the gay aspect of the relationship is treated as ordinary, and no character ever challenges it. At the end of the film, we get an indication that the main character has acted on his crush, but the film does not have so much as an LGBTQ kiss.

In other words--no sexualized content, no graphic anything. The message that Rodriguez objects to is "Gay person exist and that's no big deal." 

A movie, not instruction. Just talking pictures that show gay persons existing. 

Will that "open the door" to terrible conversations. Have you met a fifth grader lately? As Barbee told CNN:

“These students are talking about things way beyond this (movie),” Barbee said. “This door that she’s talking about, it’s been open. These are common conversations that I have to tell my students, ‘Woah there. We’re getting a little too much here.’”

And as Schneider points out, these continues attacks on teachers and schools, the need for schools and teachers to police their students' speech and conversation, also open the door to conversations that are, at a minimum, Kafkaesque:

Teacher: Stop, Pat. We can't talk about that in here.

Pat: Why can't we talk about that?"

Teacher: Well, we can't talk about why we can't talk about that.

But under Florida's repressive law, any shmoe can initiate action against a teacher or district if said shmoe thinks the vaguely worded law has been broken. So now Barbee is being scrutinized by the Florida Department of Education. And even if they correctly determine that the complaint is a load of baloney, it will still take a toil on Barbee and the district, as well as sending a message to other teachers and districts. And the message is, as it has been, "Don't mention LGBTQ persons at all." 

The notion that this dumb law can be extended to older students would be silly if it weren't going to cause so much damage. Go tell an 8th grader they aren't allowed to talk about something. I dare you. All of their time is focused on figuring out their identity; forbidding them to talk about anything on the State's list of forbidden topics, is going to cause real damage. 

Apparently only the rights of some parents matter, and apparently those rights for those certain fragile parents include the right to evade any slightly difficult conversations with your children (what some might call a parental responsibility). Why should Rodriguez be so alarmed at having to discuss with her child an LGBTQ character in an animated film? Heck, LGBTQ parents and parents of LGBTQ children have to have conversations with their children why persons like them are not allowed to be discussed or depicted around children in Florida. 

If Floridian MAGA M4L folks imagine they can simply drive LGBTQ persons into invisibility by using the full force of the state, they are kidding themselves-- which would be fine if they weren't hurting a lot of other people miserable at the same time. 

But if you are in a state considering one of these laws, just remember--all the talk about how it's just protecting small children from graphic porn turns out to be just lie, a cover for more repression and mistreatment later on.

Meanwhile, Barbee told CNN that she has already submitted her resignation "due to 'politics and the fear of not being able to be who you are' in the public school system." Good luck with those problems filling teaching positions, Florida. 

@becomingabetterbarbee I am the teacher. Here is the truth. #indoctrination #disneymovie #disney #strangeworld #viraltweet ♬ original sound - Jenna Lynn

1 comment:

  1. There is a petition in the community asking for the board member's removal. The board member went further and allegedly came into teachers classrooms and stripped walls of decor stating it did not align with standards being taught. Many parents in this school are angry and are pushing back.