Republicans never let a terrible idea go to waste. If one Republican-controlled state passes a harmful law that will do violence to vulnerable people, it’s a virtual certainty that several other Republican-controlled states will follow suit. That’s how it’s been with the Texas abortion bounty hunter law, and it’s how it’s shaping up with Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Ohio and Louisiana Republicans are already considering their own versions of the Florida legislation, which prohibits teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through third grade, and limits how those subjects can be discussed with older students. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he’ll make a similar bill a priority when the state legislature starts its next session in January. If he’s going to jump on board with every oppressive bill introduced in any state between now and January, the Texas legislature is going to have a lot to get done.
The thinking behind such bills “is that parents will be allowed to decide when they want their children to learn about LGBTQ+ issues instead of having the school talk about them at an age that may be too early or confusing,” Marissa Higgins explained about the Florida bill. “Mind you, there are undoubtedly LGBTQ+ children (and teachers, custodians, principals, parents, and so on) in every school in Florida right now. They might not be ‘out,’ they might not have the language yet, but they’re there. The only thing that comes from not talking about LGBTQ+ identity is that people lack knowledge, and down the road, may live with internalized queerphobia and feelings of confusion and self-hate. It doesn’t stop anyone from being queer to simply be silent about it.”
But silence—and the knowledge that you are seen as unacceptable or dirty that comes with enforced silence—is enough for Republicans.
A viral social media post exposed some gaps in the logic of the Florida law, enraging right-wing groups in the process:
Dear Florida parent/caretaker:
The Florida house of Representatives has recently ruled that “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
To be in accordance with this policy, I will no longer be referring to your student with gendered pronouns. All students will be referred to as “The” or “them.” I will no longer use a gendered title such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or make any references to my husband/wife in the classroom. From now on I will be using the non-gendered title “Mx.”
Furthermore, I will be removing all books or instruction which refer to a person being a “mother,” “Father,” “husband” or “wife” as these are gender identities that also may allude to sexual orientation. Needless to say, all books which refer to a character as “he” or “She” will also be removed from the classroom. If you have any concerns about this policy, please feel free to contact your local congressperson.
Thank you, Mx. XXXXXXXXXX
“Man” and “woman” are gender identities, guys. Heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. Florida Republicans—perhaps soon to be followed by Ohio and Louisiana ones—technically did ban those identifications as well. Because it wouldn’t occur to Republicans that what they think of as normal and right could fall under the category of “gender identity” or “sexual orientation.” They expect that everyone will know what they mean and fall in line because the very vagueness and broadness of the law is itself a threat.
Relatedly, the Ohio bill also contains familiar bans on teaching about race and racism, or, as it calls them, “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” Again, by being extremely vague and broad, it may limit speech even more than carefully written, highly specific language would do.
”I think it's probably by design, that they just want to instill fear, that if you wonder if something may or may not be considered controversial or considered divisive or considered illegal under this legislation, the safest bet is to just not talk about it at all. And that's the real harm that's caused because that deprives our students of a complete and honest education,” Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro told CNN.
That harm comes whether the concepts being banned are “trans people exist” or “racism exists.” And Republicans are dedicated to harming as many kids as possible.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos