It feels like the past months of 2022 have been a deep and ice-cold sea of bad news. My attention diverts to the latest problem and forgets the previous ones, causing things to get lost in the abundance of bad news.
Sinking to the bottom of this sea of information is Florida’s House Bill 1557, which was passed a couple of months ago and has been referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Despite being passed on the other side of the country, this bill affects every student at UW. With its vague language and its numerous consequences, it’s important to bring it back to the surface.
Specifically, this bill bans “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through the third grade. It goes further by banning instruction that isn’t “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” which hints at the implication of extending the ban to older grades.
In other words, teachers can’t say “gay.” They can’t freely discuss gender expression and sexual identity in their kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, which also happens to be the age when students are most curious about the world around them.
They will ask questions about these topics and can quickly latch onto discriminatory and anti-LGBTQIA+ notions from home or on the playground if they aren’t taught the opposite in the classroom.
“There has been a palpable climate of political and legal violence happening towards the Queer community across the United States,” Ryan DeCarsky, a sociology Ph.D. student, said in an email. “The bill is a part of a much larger agenda of legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ peoples.”
The most frustrating part about the anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda is that it’s working. By March of this year, over 150 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills had been introduced by state legislators.
Of course, looking locally, Washington state hasn’t introduced similar bills and most likely won’t any time soon. Still, the fact that Washington hasn’t passed discriminatory bills doesn’t mean it’s rushing to pass more LGBTQIA+-friendly and protective ones.
“In my experience, Seattle (and UW) both have large areas for improvement in creating space for the LGBTQ+ communities that call the city and school home,” DeCarsky said.
Bills like these remind us how far behind the United States still is when it comes to protecting LGBTQIA+ rights, and where we can improve moving forward. Specifically, in Washington, we can set a new and radically different precedent in reaction to the bill.
“As local activists sitting in this relatively privileged position of that bill not being passed in our state, what that means is that we can push more and push hard even in our local communities,” Lillian Williamson, ASUW Queer Student Commission director, said. “[This] will absolutely have an effect on communities in other states.”
Aside from activism, taking classes within the gender, women & sexuality studies department is a way that we can learn about and further encourage on-campus change. There are benefits for everyone, no matter their background, to take these classes and support our queer studies staff and department.
“It is a misconception that areas of study rooted in a specific community are only for that community,” DeCarsky said. “Queer studies produces knowledge about broad topics in society including, but not limited to: identity, community, culture, space, time, language, science.”
Even though the “Don’t Say Gay” bill feels far, both physically and mentally, it still passed. The bill signifies that a lot of people wish to continue shutting down discussions about what it means to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In Seattle, and especially at UW, we have the opportunity to set a precedent for creating a safe and welcoming place for these conversations.
Reach writer Shira Zur at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @shirazdaily
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