• Chart: The State of LGBTQ Education in the United States

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law his state’s much-discussed Parental Rights in Education Bill this week — much more frequently called the Don’t Say Gay Bill. While his signing was the last step for the legislation to become active in Florida, it may just be the start of Don’t Say Gay initiatives in other states.

Ohio lawmakers yesterday introduced a bill similar to Florida’s, which also bans LGBTQ education from kindergarten through third grade in public schools. Florida is not the only state to have a Don’t Say Gay law, but the first in over 20 years to pass one. According to The Hill, Florida’s bill could be the start of a wave of new Don’t Say Gay laws in schools. The reports counted as many as 15 state-level bills to ban or severely limit LGBTQ topics in K-12 education, for example in Tennessee, Kansas and Indiana.

Florida is now one of five states in the country where educators and public school staff are explicitly prohibited from discussing LGBTQ topics as part of the curriculum. Other active Don’t Say Gay bills exist in Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. In the latter two states, the bills were passed in 1987, while Texas and Mississippi enacted them in the 1990s. That’s according to data collected by the LGBTQ Movement and Group Advancement Project. reflection on voting rights.

Prior to the Florida law, the past two decades had actually seen the removal of several Don’t Say Gay laws, including in North Carolina in 2006, Utah in 2017, Arizona in 2019, South Carolina in 2020, and in Alabama in 2021. The new Florida law therefore highlights the opposing developments regarding LGBTQ education in American schools, as several other states have established legal bases for LGBTQ programs – Connecticut and Nevada in 2021 and New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and Colorado in 2019 added such provisions – while Florida and others are moving in the opposite direction.

Outside of Florida and potentially Ohio, the old Don’t Say Gay laws generally restricted instruction at all age levels, with wording ranging from “homosexuality is not an acceptable way of life for the general public” (Texas) to put LGBTQ sexuality in the same category as education on “current state laws relating to sexual conduct, including forced rape, statutory rape” (Mississippi), even though gay sex has not been an offense in the state since 2003.

Helen D. Jessen