I felt deeply wounded this week when the Florida Legislature passed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” and sent it to the Governor’s desk for signature. This legislation, blocks kindergarten through third grade teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues and people, and it will be up to the State to determine how these issues may be discussed in other grades in what they consider to be an age-appropriate manner. This legislation undermines the ability of schools to provide a safe place for LGBTQ children to flourish. While there are many reasons this bill was passed at its heart is a toxic theology that labels queer people as immoral and sinful, against God’s plan.
The consequences of discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ youth are devastating. According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, more than half of LGBTQ youth reported having experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity the past year; 72% of these youth reported symptoms of anxiety disorder which had occurred within the last two weeks of being interviewed, and 62% reported symptoms of major depressive order.
Most concerning of all is that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. Those who reported having access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide than those who did not, with half of those youth reporting school as being an affirming place, more often more affirming than their own homes.
Just to be clear, LGBTQ people are not more likely to experience mental health challenges because they were made differently. They are more likely to experience mental health challenges and suicidal ideation because it is so difficult to find acceptance and tolerance. Bills, like the one that is on the Florida governor’s desk will be devastating to young children who are just beginning to question their own sexual identity, or those who have same sex parents.
I am so grateful for my own daughter’s experience in public school here in Miami. I worried how teachers might treat my daughter once they found out that she had two moms as parents. I was pleased to find that from her early years in daycare through her time in middle school, teachers have never made her feel bad about her family or made her feel different.
I can remember one assignment where she had to place various photos of her family on a poster board and label each member. When we went to school for Open House, there was her poster, right in the midst of all of the other posters, our family being treated like all of the other families.
My daughter is now in Middle School, and it has been her experience that not only is her family accepted, but the children that go to that school have been able to express their sexual orientation openly and proudly, without bullying or harassment from the teaching staff. And while I realize that this may not be same experience other parents and children have had in their schools, my fear is that even our accepting schools will turn into oppressive environments where LGBTQ children, or those children with LGBTQ parents will be subjected to bullying and taunts from not only other students, but teachers and staff.
I think of the statistic I cited earlier about how many LGBTQ children find school to be a place of acceptance, more so than their own homes and how this acceptance lowers the trend of suicide. It seems to me that if the powers that be truly value the lives of our children, they will reconsider the damaging implications of any legislation that makes even one child lose hope that their life matters.
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.