OPINION: If you’re Black and LGBTQ in America, the stakes of this relentless culture war powered by Republicans in Florida and across the country could not be higher. Senate Democrats must act to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ rights.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill and “Stop WOKE Act” expected to be signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continue the onslaught of similar legislation already being introduced across the country, made worse by books bans and new laws suppressing the teaching of Black history in schools. If U.S. Senate Democrats don’t act by passing the Equality Act and making President Biden’s executive order on racial equity law, the Republican agenda will succeed in relegating Black and brown LGBTQ communities to the shadows of American life.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill—formally known as the Parental Rights in Education bill—would ban classroom discussions on “sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The vagueness of the bill’s language will have a chilling effect and prevent Florida teachers from providing safe and inclusive classrooms, further stigmatizing LGBTQ people and isolating kids.
“This bill is grounded in a belief that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, are a threat to children and must be erased,” said Equality Florida, in a statement in response to a recent anti-LGBTQ Twitter rant by the Florida governor’s press secretary.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, “there are so far more than 266 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Of those, at least 125 directly target transgender people and half of those (57+ bills) would ban trans youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.”
If you’re Black and LGBTQ in America, the stakes of this relentless culture war powered by Republicans across the country could not be higher, nor could it present a greater existential crisis to youth, families and employees.
“The Republicans want to create a narrative that racism doesn’t exist and that marginalization doesn’t exist. If we can’t see the truth in numbers, then it doesn’t exist. That’s what you’re seeing right now,” said State Senator Shevrin Jones, the first Black and openly LGBTQ person elected to the Florida Senate, who delivered an impassioned and tearful testimony on the Senate floor, pleading with his colleagues to vote against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“Republicans have an agenda, and the agenda is appeasing their base to attack marginalized communities, whether you’re gay, Black or immigrant,” Jones told theGrio. He predicts 2022 will be the year of regression, saying, “This is happening in Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia. All of these states are considering copycat bills.”
The “Stop WOKE Act” would limit protected speech in Florida’s workplaces and classrooms about systemic racism, gender and race discrimination. It would also change Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to allow employees to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in training or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination.
“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” said Governor DeSantis when the proposal was introduced in December. “We must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”
These pending laws cater to “white fragility” at the expense of Black and LGBTQ youth and families. This kind of legalized bullying, erasure and outright discrimination must be stopped before we turn back the clock on progress across the country.
Shortly after the Florida Legislature passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona criticized leaders in Florida for “prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need. The Department of Education made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Sadly, without stronger federal legal protections, like the Equality Act currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, Secretary Cardona’s criticism won’t be enough to keep kids and families from being harmed by these types of laws.
“My pre-kindergarten daughter’s school asked if we could share a family picture to include on the classroom Christmas tree. Our family is visibly two dads, which is different from some of the other families in the classroom,” Dr. Algernon Cargill Jr., an openly gay Bahamian immigrant and Orlando resident, told theGrio. “Children are by nature curious. They ask questions, and I think schools should be the type of environment where they should get those questions answered.”
Like the late iconic Whitney Houston so beautifully put into song, I too believe children are the future—teach them well and let them lead the way. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Stop WOKE Act are at odds with me and Whitney.
What’s the purpose of power if U.S. Senate Democrats are afraid to use it to protect the Black and LGBTQ communities that largely support them?
Our schools are increasingly becoming hyperpartisan political playgrounds unsafe for children to learn and think critically about the world we all live in. Anything short of passing the Equality Act and turning the president’s racial equity executive order into federal law will fundamentally undermine our already fragile democracy at home and our fight for democracy abroad.
Dr. Nii-Quartelai Quartey serves as the National Affairs Contributor for TheGrio, Guest Lecturer at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and as a highly regarded public intellectual at the intersection of organizational leadership and social responsibility on issues related to racial equity, policy, elections, identity politics, and culture. During the 2020 election cycle he served as Senior Policy Advisor to Biden-Harris Presidential Campaign and for over half a decade he supercharged AARP’s community, state, and national multicultural affairs work as the inaugural AARP Senior Advisor & National LGBTQ Liaison.
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