Experts from The Trevor Project, GLSEN, NBJC, and GSA Network tell us how Black kids will feel the effects of the new Don’t Say Gay bills and other laws in schools this fall.

By Maya Pottiger,
Word In Black

As students around the country begin heading back to school, they’re being told that this year will be “normal” again, referring to classes being in-person and likely mask-less. 

But it won’t be normal for LGBTQ students. In fact, it will likely be one of the furthest from normal school years they’ve had. So far this year, there have been more than 300 bills introduced that target LGBTQ people, and more than half of those aim to restrict all aspects of transgender kids’ lives, from the bathrooms they use to the sports they play.

Specifically, 10 of these anti-LGBTQ bills target schools. A Florida law aims to ban discussions of gender and sexuality in classrooms. In Indiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee, there are no restrictions on sports teams that trans kids can play in. Alabama enacted similar legislation, but with the extension of preventing trans kids from using bathrooms and lockers that match their gender.

“Teachers are so nervous that if they see something, they have to say something about it,” said Victoria Kirby York, the deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. But the laws vary state to state, she said, even though coverage tends to treat them all the same. “So you see teachers going past their duty and censoring conversations about anything related to LGBTQ people.”

“There’s definitely a need to make sure that educators really understand what they’re required to do and what goes beyond those requirements,” York said.

The intersection of being Black and LGBTQ

For those who live at the intersection of being Black and LGBTQ, it’s a particularly difficult time. As society and schools are trying to limit LGBTQ identities and how you can talk about them, the same is happening when it comes to the country’s history of racial injustice and White supremacy.

Geoffrey Winder, the co-executive director of Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network, said this strategy feels like “an overall attack on all aspects of your identity,” along with an attempt to erase or deny your ability to talk about them as part of “what’s acceptable in public discourse.”

“There’s this moment that particularly Black LGBTQ students are experiencing, which is their identity is up for public ideological debate,” Winder said.

As we head into the midterm elections, we will “definitely witness further attacks and misinformation about LGBTQ+ children and educators,” GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers wrote in a statement to Word In Black.

“Curriculum censorship bills only further harass Black queer students, who are already some of our most persecuted and disenfranchised youth,” Willingham-Jaggers wrote. “We must rise up for LGBTQ+ youth and keep advocating for inclusive education that promotes a safe and healthy environment for all of us.”

While support systems have been trying to help Black LGBTQ build an identity based around pride and a positive sense of their history, all of those things are coming under attack. That’s going to sit with this generation of students.

“Ultimately, it’s telling folks that they’re not welcome here,” Winder said, and “they’re being set up through the education system to experience that failure in a real moment or a real sense.”

Voters are against these bills

Voter surveys show why it’s especially important to cast a ballot this year. Two separate polls show the majority of voters in Florida and Texas — the states leading anti-LGBTQ legislation — oppose these new restrictions.

 In GLAAD’s August 2022 poll of Florida LGBTQ and ally voters, more than 70 percent of respondents said that laws like the Don’t Say Gay/Trans bill are designed to attack LGBTQ people, and 70 percent “strongly agree” the bills will be emotionally damaging to LGBTQ children and parents.

And a separate poll by The Trevor Project shows that most Florida voters are “generally opposed” to banning or limiting LGBTQ content in public schools. The largest margin was in response to the question of banning LGBTQ books in school libraries, with 52 percent totally opposing it and 32 percent totally supporting it.

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