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‘Don’t say gay’ bills foreshadow fearful future in education

Over a dozen states have introduced so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and most notably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed one of these bills in late March. The flashy catchphrase and hot-button issue amassed outrage and support alike from across the country, but the reality behind this bill is much more sinister than just restricting LGBTQ+ topics from public schools. With the passage of bills like this, alongside recent anti-critical race theory bills, LGBTQ+ students and students of color are being told that they literally do not exist in schools.

As a future high school English teacher, the main focus of my classes at St. Olaf is to teach for all students, whether they are in my classroom or not. To mold students into well-rounded individuals, I must teach the true history of LGBTQ+ people. This is true for all subjects and for all groups of people. However, the “Don’t Say Gay” bills completely steal this opportunity to build kindness and instead, rips the histories of minorities out of the curriculum— as if LGBTQ+ people never existed in history or literature.

This erasure of LGBTQ+ people would start as early as kindergarten. The Florida bill specifies that LGBTQ+ topics cannot be even mentioned from kindergarten to third grade. DeSantis said during a press conference that teaching children this young that “they can be whatever they want to be ” is inappropriate. DeSantis dubbed this kind of education “woke gender ideology.”

Evidently, the goal of this bill is not to have a respectful conversation about when and how LGBTQ+ topics should be introduced to children, which is what many conservatives are arguing. The bill is meant to simply drag these topics out of existence. 

The erasure of LGBTQ+ topics has extremely dangerous implications for public schools. In my classroom, for example, how will I teach “The Kite Runner ” or “Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe ” without mentioning LGBTQ+ topics? Wouldn’t it be more dangerous to not mention it at all and leave students confused? In reality, conservatives aim to scratch out these texts completely, and the same goes for books with racial topics. Conservatives advocate for removing books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” from curriculum, and while I see these books as outdated, banning them simply because they interact with race and racism is completely unproductive.

My question is, are any books devoid of LGBTQ+ or racial topics? Are there books that are not inherently sexualized or racialized? Realistically, every book contains some elements of LGBTQ+ and racial topics, and bills like these will only provide the opportunity for parents to sue schools for teaching literally anything on the basis of heterophobia or reverse racism. Once parents have control over what schools teach, then students will never learn anything unique, necessary, or inspiring. 

Essentially, these “Don’t Say Gay” bills give random conservative parents the opportunity to threaten and harrass teachers and schools into doing what they want. It’s the final stage of conservative control in schools, and we cannot let this happen. If parents get to dictate what their kids learn, we will always be stuck in the racism, homophobia, and transphobia that plagues us today.

Karen Larionova is from Eden Prarie, Minn.

Her majors are education, English, and Russian.

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