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Gay, the forbidden word in Florida

"If my daughter has two daddies and she draws a picture portraying her family, is that drawing illegal? Does it have to be hidden? Shouldn't it be shown to the other children? Can't the teacher explain to the classroom that this little girl, named Leonora, comes from a family with two daddies?"

Pexels - Karolina Grabowska

These words belong to the renowned writer José Ignacio "Chascas" Valenzuela, with an extensive body of work in literature, theater, film and TV. He is the author of the hit Netflix series "Who Killed Sara?" and a resident of Florida.

This is the same state where public school teachers are prohibited from teaching classes on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial "Parental Rights in Education" bill.

An approach to the facts

The bill has been nicknamed "Don't Say Gay" by opponents. It expresses, "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 in accordance with state standards."

Supporters of the legislation say it is intended to allow parents to determine when and in what manner to introduce LGBTQ+ issues to their children. It also gives those the option to sue a school district if the policy is violated.

" It is said that the law is to protect children, but I still don't understand how it is protecting mine," says Halim Nohra, another Florida resident who is LGBTQ+ and a parent.

Among the many gaps and sectors in the dark left by this situation is the question posed by Nohra and Valenzuela: how are children of same-sex marriages left?

"My family is my husband and my seven-year-old son, along with his two mothers, a couple of women. We share his parenting," Nohra relates. "My child is totally healthy, emotionally speaking. His peers understand perfectly well that he has two daddies and two mommies. They have come to the house, to his birthdays." And he claims, "We have a wonderful generation, but politics is trying to destroy it."

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The most disturbing thing for Valenzuela is that "It tries to avoid something that does not exist, which is a situation that we are beginning to see in this country. It's just like in Texas, with the law preventing people from talking about Critical Race Theory, when they've never taught that."

Politically incorrect

During a press conference before the bill signing, DeSantis said teaching kindergarten-age children that "they can be whatever they want to be" was "inappropriate" for children. He added, "It's not an appropriate thing for any place, but especially not in Florida."

There are those who disagree. "The data states that the earlier you start the discussion about who you are, how you feel and where you want to go is better for mental health," adds Halim Nohra.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 20% of high school students think about suicide and made a plan. But the figure rises to 40% in LGBTQ+ youth and their suicide rate is 12 times higher.

The question arises whether this tragedy-documented in numbers-couldn't be tackled by addressing the issue as early as possible.

For Myo Thwin Myint, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Tulane University (Louisiana) School of Medicine, "LGBTQ+ and trans youth face social challenges across the country. There are laws that put them under additional stress," he says in reference to the situation in Florida, during a press conference organized by Ethnic Media Services.

He worries that LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of suicide. "If there is less receptivity, family rejects them, people don't understand about gender diversity, it all creates a challenge for them."

He fears that more adversity and stress is being placed on them, in addition to the families that support them feeling silenced or threatened. "There are legislators who don't understand or accept their sexuality. Isolation worsens this whole picture. This can lead to depression and suicide."

He warns that bills similar to Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" are being discussed in several states. "It's very sad to be focusing our attention and energy on these kinds of issues, when we could be doing so many other things to help," he deplores.

A testimonial

Is it inappropriate to incorporate the issue at young ages? A good answer is the personal testimony of Miami Beach-based writer and creative writer David Sexton. Regarding this controversy, David posted on his social networks his photo when he was 7 years old.

“Long before puberty, long before I had any notion of what sex was, I was a Gay kid. I played with dolls. I liked girl things. And although I was learning quickly to be ashamed of that, I hadn't quite figured out how to hide it to fit in” reads the accompanying text.

“I remember a day in Second Grade so clearly... I was trying hard to make new friends. The girls in the class were braiding each other's hair, so I joined in. I was having fun when some of the other kids started to tease me, calling me girly, calling me a girl. My Second Grade teacher, Mrs. Benson stopped them and said, "David isn't doing anything wrong. Sometimes girls do boy things and sometimes boys do girl things. It's all okay."

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Today he reflects, "Having my teacher tell me it was okay was SO important to me, at 7 years old. Now, with 'Don't Say Gay,' Ms. Benson could be sued for showing me that kindness. The school could be sued."

Foreseeing a future under the "Don't Say Gay" bill

Valenzuela feels that, at the bottom line, what is being sought is to avoid exposing a child to diversity: "This law is supposed to target prekindergarten through third grade, but already one Florida school warned a high school graduate that if he talks about his pro-LGBTIQ+ struggle in his graduation speech they will cut off his microphone. That has nothing to do with indoctrinating pre-K kids, it's censoring a 17-year-old person. The goal is to invisibilize them. And censorship never ends well.

He finds it terrifying that schools have a seven-week deadline to bring out of the closet any child whose behavior is detected as other than heterosexual and informing parents within those seven weeks.

"That's inhumane. There is nothing more sacred than the right to identity and privacy. No one has the right to take you out of the closet, not your parents, not your family, and certainly not the school."

The writer believes that, if that young person has not told the family what is happening to them, it is because they do not feel it is the right time. "They are not ready, because they feel that their parents will react badly. And Valenzuela adds: "That will generate conflict and family fracture. It will lead to expulsions from the family and, eventually, suicides".

Halim Nohra emphasizes that "To label as pedophiles those who oppose this law seems to me to be disrespectful to those who have been the real victims of real pedophiles. It is a dangerous label”.

Nohra assures that he is looking for ways to put up a fight. "I make calls, I send emails, I collect signatures, I get involved in social media. I will do what I can from this trench, not just for LGBTIQ+ rights, but for any human being, especially minorities and children."

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