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Students and Teachers Unite Against DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

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The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has passed the Florida Senate, and is now on the way to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk where he’s promised to sign it into law.

The bill, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, bans any discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom from kindergarten to third grade. It also prohibits lessons in other grades unless they are arbitrarily determined “age appropriate.” 

This bill is part of a broader right wing offensive across the country and in Florida in particular, attacking reproductive rights and the right to protest, enacting racist voting restrictions, and banning trans children from gender-affirming care and school sports. The attacks won’t stop here. We need a mass movement to defend LGBTQ rights and fight back against the right.

A National Wave of Anti-LGBTQ Attacks

Texas Governor Greg Abbot recently wrote a letter calling on the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate gender-affirming care for children as “child abuse.” Iowa recently became the eleventh state since the beginning of 2021 to pass a bill banning trans children from participating in school sports. Arkansas passed a total ban on gender-affirming care for children last year, and this year 17 states have introduced bills that would restrict healthcare for transgender youth.

The hardships of working class queer and trans people aren’t limited to attacks from Governors mansions and state legislatures. 2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the U.S. Gender-affirming care is unaffordable, and LGBTQ people have higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.

Anti-LGBTQ Legislation Bankrolled by Big Business

DeSantis and the sponsors of this bill have received heaps of funding from many supposedly “LGBTQ friendly” corporations, including AT&T, UnitedHealth Group, Disney, Comcast/NBC Universal, Duke Energy, and Walgreens. All of these companies received perfect scores on Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index. Walgreens, which donated a total of $28,000 in campaign cash to Gov. DeSantis and Florida legislators pushing the bill, changed its logo to rainbow colors last June for Pride Month. Disney has once again come under fire for its hypocritical statements in support of LGBTQ rights. They donated nearly $300,000 to supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill just in the past two years. CEO Bob Chapek refused to condemn the bill until faced with mounting outrage from Disney workers.

In addition to being part of the broader attempt by the right wing to undermine teachers efforts to teach progressive curriculum, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is part of a broader effort to undermine public education by empowering individual parents to sue schools for damages, potentially bankrupting an already starved public school system. Big business and the right wing would prefer if all education in Florida was open season for privatization.

We Can’t Rely on the Courts or the Democratic Party

Right now, Democrats control the presidency in addition to both houses of Congress, but so far their support for the Equality Act has been limited to platitudes. They have not made abortion rights the “law of the land,” as Biden promised on the campaign trail. In response to the Texas abortion ban last year, the Biden administration simply punted the issue over to the courts.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill will likely face legal challenges, but absent a mass movement to defend LGBTQ rights, the chilling effect it would have on classrooms would remain. The courts alone will not provide LGBTQ youth with real victories such as funding for school counselors, reproductive rights, free college, and free trans healthcare through trans-inclusive Medicare for All.

We Need A Mass Movement

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is sparking outrage, and young people have started fighting back. Students and educators have held walkouts all over the state, including a walkout of over 500 students at Winter Park High School.

These school-based actions are an essential part of defeating this right-wing assault. The teachers unions should urgently organize their members against this attack on their rights in the classroom. They should call for a day of action against the bill and work with students to organize walkouts. The broader labor movement should loudly oppose this bill as not just an attack on the rights of teachers in the classroom, but an attack on LGBTQ teachers and students as a whole.

The right, in an attempt to mobilize their base, are doubling down on their attacks on queer youth. This is an offensive with deadly consequences and has to be ferociously fought. We need a multi-racial, multi-gender mass movement of working people and students to defend LGBTQ rights. We need to link the movement for LGBTQ rights with the fight for reproductive rights to fight for free, safe and legal abortion through trans-inclusive Medicare for All. And finally we need a mass movement to fight against the capitalist system itself. Ultimately, a true end to homophobia and transphobia will only come with the complete socialist transformation of society.

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