This essay, by Lucas Cohen-d’Arbeloff, age 17, from Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, is one of the Top 11 winners of The Learning Network’s Ninth Annual Student Editorial Contest, for which we received 16,664 entries.
We are publishing the work of all the winners and runners-up over the next week, and you can find them here as they post.
How ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Diminishes Same-Sex Parents and Their Children
As a rosy-cheeked nine-year-old, I beamed as I walked down a grassy aisle blanketed with flower petals. Serving as a ring bearer for my two dads’ wedding in 2014, I had spent months crafting handmade ring pillows to celebrate my parents. I felt proud to be a part of history.
But today, trouble is brewing. Stories like mine could become off-limits in schools in light of a recent wave of hateful legislation. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed House Bill 1557 — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents — on March 28. The bill stipulates that classroom instruction 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,” according to The New York Times. Similar bills have been introduced in more than a dozen states.
These bills’ vague language calls into question how they will be applied: Who gets to decide what is “appropriate” for a particular age group? Opponents of Florida’s bill have rightly pointed out the danger this ambiguity poses to L.G.B.T.Q. students. But less discussed is how the children of same-sex parents will fare as a result of “Don’t Say Gay.”
Kids with L.G.B.T.Q. parents may grow up without their teachers acknowledging their families. It’s not far-fetched to imagine lawsuits from bigoted parents seeking to use these laws to shut out any L.G.B.T.Q. presence in the curriculum. Even progressive teachers may steer clear of recognizing same-sex parents in class out of fear of losing their jobs. Paula Stephens, a first-grade teacher in Florida, said she now does not know how to proceed with her usual curriculum. This is probably the most sinister aspect of “Don’t Say Gay”: In trying to navigate such deliberately vague language, teachers may have to choose between their own livelihoods and treating their students humanely.
Some same-sex parents have already taken a stand against this injustice, including Lourdes Casares and Kimberly Feinberg, a Floridian couple who mounted a legal challenge to “Don’t Say Gay” on March 31. If laws are passed in other states, other families should follow their lead. We must also compel state and local officials and their corporate supporters to take a stand against this hate.