I am a lesbian mother of a young child. I also grew up and went through elementary school, middle school, and most of high school in central Florida. You might think that you can guess my views on House Bill 1557, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, based on this information, so I want to start off with my most important belief on the matter:
I completely believe that young children should not be sexualized in any way and I also believe that young children should not be exposed to inappropriate sexual content.
If someone came into my first-grader’s classroom and began discussing hardcore sex acts, or showing photos of genitalia, I would be LIVID. It’s wildly inappropriate, immoral, and depending on what we are talking about, could even be illegal. I hope that we can all agree that kind of thing is completely wrong.
Yes, children will need to learn about sex and sexuality eventually. Most of us will hopefully choose a gradual and age-appropriate response. Our approach as a family is to answer any question presented to us by our daughter with honesty and in an age-appropriate way. We do not offer more information than the question our daughter asks at the time requires. We also use medical, anatomically-correct names for body parts, because I have learned from attending child abuse prevention seminars, and reading multiple studies, that this helps reduce the risk of childhood sexual abuse. Using words like” penis” or “vagina” or “vulva” instead of cutesy terms is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for just such a reason. Having the proper language helps children be able to talk about anything inappropriate that might be happening, and it helps to make potential predators nervous when children call actions exactly what they are. Naming things has power.
I’m sorry, I know thinking about childhood sexual abuse is heavy. I hate it too. Protecting our children from predators is one of our most important jobs as parents. That’s the entirety of this argument, right? To have the rights as parents to protect our kids from actual, evil “groomers”—people who will inappropriately lure children into unsafe and sexual situations. So we use appropriate terms and we have conversations about “tricky people” and teach our child that she is allowed to have boundaries, i.e. No one is allowed to hug her, touch her, or tickle her if she says “no”—even grandparents and older relatives. These are some of the ways that we work to protect her. But that is about home life: let’s talk about what should and should not happen at school.
One thing that I keep hearing over and over is that children are too young to be exposed to discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity because it is sexual in nature. Or as House Bill 1557 puts it: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age- appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
So okay, sexual orientation. In a K-3rd grade classroom, that is going to look like this: Peppa Pig lives with her Mommy Pig, her Daddy Pig, and her brother George. Did you catch the sexual orientation and gender identity there? Yes, Daddy Pig and Mommy Pig are married and have kids. That is sexual orientation on display. Also, Mommy is a female term, Daddy is a male term, and I used “her” when discussing Peppa, which confirms her gender identity. So, in this one storytime, I have now violated HB1557. A teacher saying, “settle down boys and girls” would also be discussing gender identity. Somehow though, I doubt anyone is going to sue a teacher for reading a Peppa Pig book, or a Bluey book.
Isn’t Bluey the best? Bandit, the dad, is like the greatest parental role model of all time, and the mom is great too. But as they are married and share a home with their kids… we do know something about their sexual orientation. So here is the thing: if we have a story about say, two moms named Cat and Amanda and their little girl… how is that any different when being presented to children? My family being presented as something that exists is not inherently more or less sexual than any other family dynamic. My 7-year old’s friends know us as her parents, just like they have parents. Her best friend has two dads, they are the only two kids in their class with same-sex parents, and do you know what the kids think? They think we are the parents with the pool and fun snacks. If my daughter mentions her parents and a child had a question a teacher could easily answer with “Yes, they love each other and they got married.” Just like she could answer that about her other student’s mom and dad or a student who has a single parent or lives with grandparents. Families come in a variety. My marriage is not less valid just because YOU decided to think about what happens in my bedroom. That’s creepy and it’s not the way most people who meet a married couple think about them. I don’t want to kink shame you, but you might really want to keep that to yourself, because it is very uncomfortable for the rest of us to have you spending so much time thinking about something I promise your children are NOT thinking about. Again, when we are talking about kindergarten through third grade education, we are not talking about lessons taking a deep dive into queer theory, we’re talking about books like Mommy, Mama, and Me.
Telling my child her family is a taboo subject is telling her that she is less valid. She is loved. She was brought into this world by two people who very much planned for her and wanted her and adore her. Just like many of you who also have children probably feel about your own kids, regardless of your relationship status. If the children are thinking about or wondering about what happens in our bedroom at this young age, there is absolutely something to be concerned about… but it’s not my family.
There is nothing more or less sexual about a same-sex relationship than a heterosexual relationship. When a teacher describes a family with a mom and a dad, that teacher would NEVER then get into the various sex positions that couple may engage in after the kids go to bed. If a teacher did that, they should be fired immediately. It is exactly the same when talking about my family. Anything explicit would be inappropriate for young children. PERIOD.
So, if this is really about protecting kids from groomers, a thing I very much agree we should all do… then why is it a bill about “sexual orientation and gender identity?” This is a bill that could be interpreted as “you cannot refer to your teacher as Mrs. Brown because Mrs. denotes gender and relationship status which includes sexual orientation.” Why not a bill that is about restricting explicit sexual content to be age appropriate? Knowing that LGBTQ people and families exist is not in any way age inappropriate. People exist. There are children in your kids’ class who have gay and lesbian parents, aunts and uncles, etc. There are kids in the class who are themselves LGBTQ, even if you desperately want to pretend it is a thing that only happens due to brainwashing (Side note: my parents were straight. I grew up in a straight, Christian, Republican central Florida household and attended a Pentecostal school. If brainwashing were the reason gay people exist, I would not be a lesbian.) If you really want to protect children from something sexual, then make a bill about explicit content, but the thing is… that is not what is happening. If and when something wildly inappropriate and sexual does happen, legal action is taken, because that is already illegal.
If this bill and others like it aren’t about making children of gay and lesbian parents feel their families are less than, if they really aren’t about making LGBTQ children feel shame, and if you really do support this bill as it is worded, then I expect you to commit to sue every class that shows a traditional nuclear family with a mom, dad, and kids in a textbook or worksheet, because that is sexual orientation. Sue every instructor who uses pronouns other than “they/them” because that is gender. If you aren’t willing to do that, if it makes you scoff, consider that this isn’t about protecting children at all, because sexual orientation and gender identity can absolutely be discussed in an age-appropriate way in schools… it already is.