‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill weighs heavily on educators

Photo courtesy: Raphael Renter/Unsplash

Commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, House Bill 1557 cleared  a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday with a 12-8 party-line vote.

The bill has provoked controversial discussions among both political parties as people around the nation continue to debate what capacity teachers serve. Outside of the politicians who have the voting power, teachers themselves have spoken out about the possible repercussions this bill could have on their ability to do their jobs.

Amy-Elizabeth Manlapas, a high school history teacher in Atlanta, says this directly affects the quality of teaching educators can provide.

“Teachers spend a lot of time showing students that we care and that they’re safe with us. That they’re allowed to relax and disarm themselves enough to learn,” Manlapas said. “We have to care about the social-emotional well-being of a student before we can even consider teaching them anything. If they don’t feel safe or secure, no learning will happen.”

According to a 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth have “seriously considered” attempting suicide. Educators in Florida and around the country have condemned the bill partly because of what this statistic means. Children could be in danger of feeling closed off which could negatively impact their learning.

“Our children have the right to learn and express their experiences. By limiting topics based on age, it will increase feelings of alienation and decrease student access to social supports,” Kenya Madison, senior director of Healthier Delray Beach and a former elementary school teacher, said. “Our children deserve multiple outlets to communicate their needs.”

For those entering the teaching profession, this bill is confusing and could make their jobs much more difficult. The idea of having to discourage personal expression in their students creates feelings of apprehension, Alexis Peele, a graduating college senior, said. She will be a middle school math teacher in Baltimore after graduation, and when she learned about the bill, she immediately sympathized with the future Florida teachers.

“My teachers, counselors and admin at my K-12 school in Delray had a major impact on me. The teachers at my school did everything they could to make sure students were the priority despite the lack of resources,” Peele said. “I think this will affect teachers’ ability to be personable or relatable with their students. Some students go to school to escape from home and use that environment to express themselves. I think this bill will also close another outlet that students use when they need someone to talk to about their feelings.”

Teachers have aired their grievances with those in support of the bill on social media and have told stories about how meaningful teachers are to students, especially younger ones. Some have had to take students in or get them new clothes because their parents could not afford it, and more, all because they care. Manlapas has seen it all and believes this will open a dark side to education and put students’ safety at risk.

“Once one state gets away with this, others will follow,” Manlapas said.  “It also helps that this will hurt a lot of the more left-leaning teachers who will probably leave the classroom rather than be complicit in what’s state-sanctioned child abuse. I know that I will never ever teach in a public school ever again.”