As students walked to and from classes Thursday afternoon, a group of students, teachers and administrators gathered at The Rock on campus to protest a recent bill in the Florida Legislature.
Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or oSTEM, is a national society dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQ communities in the STEM community. Led by president and senior Joe Recker, oSTEM held a rally to protest against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The bill, officially coined as the Parental Rights in Education bill, would make it so Florida public schools “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It does not specify the meaning of either age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate. At a recent event, Florida Governor Ron De Santis expressed support for the bill despite not fully committing to signing it into law if it were to reach his desk.
Recker opened the rally with a speech, followed by Student Government president Landon Coles, UM history professor Dr. Martin A Nesvig, chaplain of St. Bede Episcopal Chapel Frank Corbishley, president of SpectrUM Nathaly Gonzalez, Nathaniel Frazier of Living and Learning Communities, and Lauren Colaco, vice president of the Asian American Student Association and president of the National Organization of Women UM chapter.
“Tell Ron De Santis we won’t take this in silence,” Colaco said as part of her stirring speech.
The bill was passed by The Florida Senate Education Committee on last Tuesday and will have to pass through two more Florida Senate committees before it can reach the full chamber, followed by the state House and ultimately the governor.
“It’s going to have really detrimental effects and already LGBTQ youth are at a heightened risk for suicide and for harm,” Recker said. “So it’s very concerning because this bill can honestly, maybe lead to the loss of some young people’s lives due to not being able to talk about who they are.”
In addition, the bill would make changes to counseling and disclosure procedures such as “prohibiting school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”
This poses a grave risk to LGBTQ+ students throughout Florida, according to critics. Coles, Nespig, and Frazier all shared their experiences with homophobia growing up. In their speech Frazier revealed that the homophobia they experienced was so bad they had to leave the Florida public school system in the 8th grade, instead choosing to attend online school for their remaining schooling.
Furthermore, Gonzalez revealed that in schools where students have an adult figure to speak to on their sexual identity and orientation the suicide consideration rate drops from 19% to 10%, the bill would likely limit both student and staff willingness to speak on such topics if staff are responsible to disclose such information to parents.
“Coming out is a huge, very hard process,” Recker said. “It should be done on your own terms and if it gets passed, it’s going to have a horrible effect for these kids. A lot of them are gonna get kicked out of their houses. I personally know people at UM that have been kicked out of their houses because of being gay or being bi, or being trans.”
Throughout the rally, speakers advocated on how allies and LGBTQ+ community members alike can work to prevent the bill from becoming law. Corbishley called upon affirming Christian churches to raise their voices against anti-LGBTQ+ rights congregations. In addition, Coles urged students to use their voting power, write to their representatives, and continue to unite together in events such as this.
“It’s not really an issue of politics, It’s an issue of human rights and everyone should not just read about it or listen to speeches but actually do some action whether that is calling someone or sending an email or if your not registered to vote in Florida, staying in tune to what’s happening in your home states,” said rally attendee and second-year student, Allison Reich.
After eight speeches all calling for unification and strength amidst the potential passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and other regressive LGBTQ+ rights policies nationwide, the rally concluded with a resounding chant from the crowd, “We say nay…to don’t say gay!”