'Don't say gay' reflects a troubling new norm: Banning what makes you uncomfortable


"No homo."

"That's so gay."

And, of course, the other F-bomb.

Anyone who's attended an American grade school is already familiar with homophobia, the juvenile idea that "gay" is synonymous with "bad."

Before queer kids are even fully aware of who they are, they're told who they are by schoolyard bullies and misguided adults. Worse, they're often convinced that label (regardless of its accuracy) should be a mark of shame.

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This week, a group of Republicans in Florida passed legislation — opponents rightly call it the "Don't Say Gay" bill — that would ban school districts from teaching anything about sexual orientation or gender identity to schoolchildren before the fourth grade.

These legislators claim they are defending the rights of parents to protect their children from learning about, well, anything LGBTQ-related.

Sorry to break it to you: That ship has sailed.

Really, this bill — and many more like it across the nation — reflects a troubling new norm in our democracy: Banishing the people and the subjects that make us uncomfortable.

It's the same impulse that undergirded the Central York school board's wholesale ban on a litany of movies and books from creators of color or state Rep. Dawn Keefer's quest to prohibit trans kids from participating in school sports.

In years past, bigots actively discriminated against the people they didn't understand.

Today, they deny their very existence.

Of course, all of this effort to deem certain subjects off limits is an absurd Sisyphean task. Grade schoolers know as much about gay people as you did at their age — and, with the internet, probably a great deal more.

Likewise, banning books about racism doesn't negate the existence of racism out in the real world any more than banning trans athletes negates their right to compete alongside their peers.

Students protest at Gaither High in Tampa against what critics call the "Don't say gay" bills on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire/TNS)

We have no doubt that many schoolchildren — much like those brave Central York student activists — will learn what they need to know, regardless. What the censors repeatedly fail to realize is that banning a thing almost instantly makes that thing more interesting.

The true consequences of "Don't Say Gay" and other legislation of its ilk are less tangible.

These bills won't stop LGBTQ people (or racism or sexism or anything else) from existing. Despite the best efforts of Florida Republicans, there is no way to legislate the gay away.

A simple for-instance: What happens when the child of a gay or lesbian couple is asked to draw a picture of their family? Will any third-grader really be that scandalized in 2022?

Instead, what legislation like this does is loudly endorse the worst behavior of schoolyard bullies and further ostracize young queer people who are just trying to live their lives.

It sends a clear signal that the bigots-in-training are justified in their vitriol and violence to pressure queer kids to hide themselves away.

That makes all of our schools less safe.