Florida isn’t the only place that won’t say gay
California schools are also perpetrators of a nationally destructive culture war.
California schools are also perpetrators of a nationally destructive culture war.
Eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion at universities; erasing Black history in classrooms; and banning reproductive, gender and sexuality instruction are among the compendium of anti-educational laws Florida has aggressively enacted over the past few years. While Florida appears to be an easy punching bag for its dystopian anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-Black legislation, we neglect to see that these types of actions, particularly of the “Don’t Say Gay” variety, are also taking place in education boards across the country — including California.
California school districts in Temecula and Sunol recently banned the display of LGBTQIA+ pride flags. Earlier this year, Temecula also rejected a curriculum for including a book that mentioned Harvey Milk, a prominent LGBTQIA+ activist. The Chino Valley Unified School District adopted a policy this past summer requiring parents to be notified if a student wants to be recognized by a different gender identity or pronouns than associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. These are just a few of the many examples of anti-LGBTQIA+ action in California alone.
Attacks on gender and sexuality education are not a uniquely Floridian oddity; instead, they are part of a longer-standing culture war in the United States. Indeed, Florida’s law was named the “Parental Rights in Education” bill — and while “parental rights” are a convenient tool for policymakers such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to exploit as they push a renewed and divisive culture war, there is a growing national body of parental groups that claim the issue at stake with education is parental involvement.
Moms for Liberty is the most prominent example of one such group. Founded in Florida, but with chapters across the country (including regions of California such as San Mateo and Santa Clara) the group is run by conservative women seeking to limit instruction on Black history and gender identity, fighting perceived “woke indoctrination” through increased parental rights.
Parents are rightly apprehensive about government intervention in education, but far-right activism has unduly exploited this genuine concern by falsely perpetuating the existence of a “woke indoctrination” enemy — fueling a culture war more preoccupied with establishing which groups of people should have power in the future rather than educating children.
We cannot defeat a culture war by entertaining its existence. Inclusive instruction has no enemies — least of all parents and their students. Unfortunately, just as laws targeting the teaching of Black history do not acknowledge that Black children are also students, “Don’t Say Gay” laws and policies operate under the pretense that gender and sexuality are not real social categories and aspects of identity that affect all youth.
Policies like the ones encoded into law by Florida or disseminated by local school boards in California do not actually eliminate education on gender and sexuality. Classrooms have always had an everyday role in teaching about gender and sexuality, regardless of whether identities outside of the gender binary are acknowledged. Curriculum about parenthood, family, sexual health, and other portrayals of men and women implicitly suggest a range of gendered social roles — from professional occupations to conventional behaviors and customs.
Conservative advocacy seeks to defend a traditional perspective on all of these areas. Without even diving into arguments about the legitimacy of traditional gender norms, “Don’t Say Gay” policymaking presents a problematic legal and pedagogical question: What exactly are traditional gender norms?
Teachers facing curriculum bans have little clarity on what standard to follow. In one case, a teacher was forced to resign for showing a Disney movie that included a gay character. LGBTQIA+ teachers have faced backlash for talking about their families. Most distressingly, educators no longer feel it is safe for their students to confide in them when they are forced to notify parents about a student’s change in gender identity — a policy increasingly adopted in even typically liberal California school districts. Contrary to what parental rights alarmists argue, policies restricting educators are actually imposing far more government intervention in education than before.
Despite our societal reluctance to acknowledge the existence of gender and sexuality, they are predominant forces in our everyday lives. These cases demonstrate a stubborn rejection of the diverse gender and sexual identities that are a reality of our communities, our media, our educators and students. This willful ignorance comes at the expense of students’ lifetime physical and mental wellbeing. Without educators’ capacity to address gender and sexuality directly, we leave students to independently seek answers on deeply personal, complex and important experiences, from maintaining reproductive health to building healthy relationships.
There is a deeper generational cost to this ignorance. When we fail to empower students to think critically about their identities and places in society, the consequence is the continued disconnect between policymakers, parents, teachers and students that we witness today. If we are to move beyond the discordant, hateful and discriminatory anti-LGBTQIA+ actions we currently experience, we must enable educators to openly acknowledge and teach about gender and sexuality.
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