Last week, the Florida State Senate passed a controversial law Passed: It bans curriculum teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in children from kindergarten through third grade. Teachers should also not talk about these topics to older children and young people in a way that is “inappropriate for the age of the students”.
The law is now before Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign – and he has already signaled that he wants to sign it. In this way, they say, the Republicans want to protect children from issues that they cannot process – and they want to strengthen the rights of parents. Schools can now also be sued if they do not comply with “Parental Rights in Education” – the appropriate name of the new law.
Fear of marginalization of the LGBTQ community
However, it is better known under the name “Don’t Say Gay”. Opponents and activists called it that. Because there is a lot of headwind – including from US President Joe Biden himself, who called the law “hateful”. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, told DW: “It is always appropriate to recognize the existence and value of LGBTQ families – and that we are a normal, healthy part of society.”
US President Biden visits an elementary school – the Democrats stand for more liberal sex education for children
It’s about much more than just a lack of appreciation. Many people worry that tabooing alternative gender identities and non-heterosexual orientations will lead to more discrimination and violence. This is one of the reasons why thousands of schoolchildren and members of the LGBTQ community recently came together to protest.
“Sex education already useful in kindergarten”
Also concerned is Eva Goldfarb, a public health professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Goldfarb has worked in the sex education field for 25 years, has trained educators across the United States, and is a co-author of a US National Standard Program on Sex Education.
“Sex education and the discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity should start very early in a form appropriate to age and development, even in kindergarten,” emphasizes the expert. “Children are naturally curious and start asking questions, for example when they see a pregnant woman. And what if they themselves have two mothers, two fathers or perhaps a gay brother? The task of educators and teachers is to help them understand these things so that they don’t frighten them and aren’t taboo.”
According to Goldfarb, such an early education lays the foundation for later entering into more complex discussions with older adolescents. “It’s no different with other school subjects. Nobody would think of saying that we were suddenly teaching algebra in the eighth grade without first having taught the basics of mathematics.”
Slavery and racism should also not be an issue
The question of how teachers should talk about sexual orientation and gender identity is a hot topic, and not just in Florida – there are similar bills in other states as well. In Arizona, teachers will be required to inform parents when their children raise the issue of gender identity. In Indiana, schools should ask parents for their consent if they want to talk about sexual orientation. And in Oklahoma, a bill has been introduced to ban books on the subject from school libraries.
The topic of sex education is part of a comprehensive political culture war in the field of education: In many places there is also a debate about how history, slavery and racism can be talked about in schools.
For example, the “Stop Woke Act” was also recently passed in Florida. Among other things, the law is intended to prevent students from having to be ashamed of the actions of the American founding fathers. This applies, for example, to the history of slavery and the responsibility of white people in the USA. The “Stop Woke Act” is also directed against the so-called critical race theory, a scientific concept that defines racism as a structural problem.
Parents should have a say in the curriculum
What is curious is that the Critical Race Theory was never an official part of the school curriculum in Florida. Just as the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity were hardly on the curriculum in kindergarten and elementary school. The question remains: What are the conservative forces in the country actually fighting against?
In the case of Florida, many suspect that Governor DeSantis wants to make a name for himself within the Republican Party and among voters. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida is also convinced: “All of this is geared towards him being reelected governor in 2022. And he wants to overtake Donald Trump on the right so that he can run for president in the 2024 election.”
Another question is: who actually wants and needs these laws? In a survey by the market research company Ipsos Recently, nearly two-thirds of Americans polled opposed Florida-like laws that ban teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary schools.
Those who took to the streets in their thousands against “Parental Rights in Education,” including many students, don’t want the law. And their parents, who are promised more say? Eva Goldfarb is convinced: “Most parents appreciate having a partner in the educational institutions who helps with sex education. And as far as I know, in most states there is already the option to opt out of sex education. So if you don’t want to “Your child doesn’t have to take sex education classes.”
According to Goldfarb, in some states, such as Arizona, the situation is already reversed: the child only takes part in sex education classes if the parents actively choose to do so.
Political trench warfare at the expense of the children
The threat of an alleged left-wing dictatorship in the area of racism or sexuality, invoked by the right, is therefore limited. And even if sexual orientation and gender identity are openly discussed in kindergartens and elementary schools – the fear of conservatives that this will encourage children to become gay, lesbian, transgender or queer is, according to Eva Goldfarb, sheer nonsense. “There’s no scientific evidence that what you learn in school can change your sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s not how sexuality works. It’s creating scary scenarios that don’t actually exist.”
On the contrary, the scientist finds it bizarre not to talk about such topics these days: “For the younger generation, none of this is a big deal anymore. And now we say, no, we can’t talk about it anymore?”
While some US states are trending in this direction, there are other examples in the polarized society of the United States. In Colorado, for example, since 2019 a law has required public schools to provide “comprehensive education about human sexuality”. Similar regulations also exist in California and New Jersey.
In order to reduce real problems such as high abortion rates and discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, Professor Goldfarb hopes that the current “reactionary tenor” will die down again. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida is convinced: “These laws may give Republican politicians political success for a moment, but that is not the direction in which the country is moving in the long term.”