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Curmudgucation: Of Course Schools Teach About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Florida's Don't Say Gay law is about to expand, so now's a good time to remember that it is a stupid law.

Florida's GOP wanted to avoid saying what they actually meant, so they said something stupid instead. 

What they meant was "Don't talk about LGBTQ persons, ever, in school." But they phrased it in a way that allowed defenders to argue repeatedly, "Hey, can you even show me the word 'gay' anywhere in that bill?"

And it wasn't anywhere there. The bill's language bars "discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity." Which makes it a stupid law, because sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed around children all the time, in school and out.

With a pair of five year old twins, we are awash in children's books here, and those books are loaded with depictions of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Little Critter's mom stays at home, cooks and cleans, always wearing a dress. Dad comes home from work wearing a suit. Daniel Tiger's mom is married to his father, and she becomes pregnant with Daniel's baby sister. Or let's talk classic Disney flicks, in which princesses (wearing dresses) are rescued by men. Or movies like Bambi or Jungle Book in which we learn that the mere sight of a friendly female overwhelms the male brain. 

And there are certainly books that present non-traditional roles, like the nurturing father of the Jabari books or the varied families of Daniel Tiger's neighborhood. But all of those are displaying different non-traditional lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Heck, before children gave even set foot in school, they've learned to tell men's and women's restrooms apart based on the icons that show women wear dresses and men wear pants. The pants-dress distinction is probably the ultimate in Shit We Humans Make Up And Then Pretend Was Dictated To Us By God. Pants, just for the record, were probably invented by the Chinese and adopted in Europe much later (the Romans supposedly considered them barbaric, so all those classical charter schools are really missing the boat). 

We could go on and on, but as many have observed, we are teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity all the time (up to including all those times that somebody tries to cutely suggest that two five year olds are boyfriend and girlfriend). There are a handful of materials out there that avoid gender altogether, but I suspect that kind of unspecific androgeny would not please certain folks, either.

To expand this stupid law up through 12th grade is so many kinds of unenforceable stupid. How does one even begin to teach literature while making sure that nothing encourages a discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity? All of Shakespeare has to go out the window. Most of American literature-- I am struggling to think of a major work that does not deal with sexual orientation and gender identity. We could still do "Stopping by a Wood" and "The Road Not Taken" and some other Frost. 

But of course none of that is what the proponents of these laws want. They want schools to never talk about LGBTQ persons ever, only if they just say that directly, both their bigotry in their hearts and the illegal discrimination in their law would stand naked for everyone to see. Their shameful intent to oppress and erase would be on display.

So we're going to get more half-baked defenses of an indefensible law. "The word 'gay' isn't actually in there" as if we don't all understand that the words of the law aren't meant to mean what they say, because that would be hopelessly senseless. "So I guess you want to show hardcore porn to five year olds" as if there are no gradations and nuances that reasonable people can discuss. And some folks will keep throwing "groomer" around, because they don't want to talk about any of this, and nothing shuts up your opponents like slandering them with accusations of heinous crimes. 

Well, that and the constant threat of lawsuits, because don't forget--the law gives any parent who thinks the law has been violated the right to sue the school district. 

Maybe I'm underestimating just how repressive the state intends to be. Given the firing of a charter school principal who allowed sixth graders to be caught unawares by a marble penis (said the board chair, "The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids"), maybe the dream really is to get children all the way to age 18 unaware that there is any such thing as gender or sex. If so, that's not a plan destined for success. 

Florida may be the sunshine state, but when it comes to education, it is the coldest spot in the nation. 

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...