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LGBTQ authors and advocates say a plan to curb school talk about sex and gender identity could hurt teens

 Free-expression experts and LGBTQ authors and advocates convened virtually to discuss the bill on Monday.
Zoom screengrab
Free-expression experts and LGBTQ authors and advocates convened virtually to discuss the bill on Monday.

Right now there is no more contested issue than curriculum in public schools.

School districts across Florida — and the country — have received attention for pulling LGBTQ books out of their libraries or placing them under review. And the battle over regulating conversations in schools continues in the Florida Legislature, where what critics referred to as the "don't say gay" bill is being debated.

The  "Parental Rights in Education bill”, Senate bill 1834 and House Bill 1557, would prohibit discussions about gender identity or sexual orientation in primary grade levels.

On Monday, authors and advocates opposed to the legislation talked about it — and its potential ramifications — at a virtual event hosted by PEN America, a free speech organization.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said the bill is the centerpiece of a cluster of proposed laws that she says would "chip away at personal freedom" under the appearance of parental rights.

She said the legislation would stop children from talking about their same-sex parents or teachers from talking about the existence of LGBTQ people.

"This is state action in censorship," Smith said, "in denying people access to information, and turning schools into nothing but propaganda factories that are intended to erase uncomfortable realities of history and the lingering impact of them."

Smith said the atmosphere in Florida is chilling, and there's a reason for people across the country to be worried.

Malinda Lo is the author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, a young adult novel in which the main character explores her sexuality. She says the Florida law — and the country's rush to ban LGBTQ books like hers — are frightening because they attempt to silence queer voices.

Even though there weren't similar laws when she grew up in the 1980s, Lo said LGBTQ issues were rarely discussed.

"For my generation, this meant that we really struggled for years personally against homophobia, fear and depression,” she said. “Because our identities were so stigmatized. This is a truly isolating and alienating way to grow up."

Lo says she hears from young people who have found hope and comfort in her books.

She says this bill, and similar efforts across the country, could hurt young people.

"These efforts cannot erase the questions that teens have about their identities and their world," Lo said. "The only thing these laws can do is hurt our young people who deserve the freedom to be who they are."

The senate's education committee passed the "Parental Rights in Education" bill last week. It has two more committees to go through.
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Bailey LeFever