House Bill 1557 is Causing Yet Another Divide Amongst Americans

This is a picture of the Florida Governor discussing House Bill 1557 at a press conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Friday, March 4th 2022. He supports the bill and expressed in this speech how children do not need to learn about “transgenderism.” (CBS Miami)

This is a picture of the Florida Governor discussing House Bill 1557 at a press conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Friday, March 4th 2022. He supports the bill and expressed in this speech how children do not need to learn about “transgenderism.” (CBS Miami)

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding House bill 1557. This bill is more commonly known by its two other names; supporters call it the “Parental Rights in Education Bill,” while many opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

On January 11th, 2022, House Bill 1557 was drafted in the Florida state senate house. The bill’s overall impact regards what should and should not be allowed in school classrooms. Those who have helped form these guidelines are people who believe that parents should have more control over what their child is exposed to at school.

There have been many recent debates that have occurred concerning the influence of schools and what role parents play in an entire school system’s guidelines. This bill addresses possible Floridian school conduct.

The main clause that sparked outrage across the country was in Section I, Subsection III of the draft: “A school district 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.” 

On February 18th, 2022, Republican state representative Joe Harding wrote an amendment that called for schools to disclose the sexuality and gender identity of a student to the parents within 6 weeks of finding out, and for it to be done in a “ safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment.” 

On February 22nd, this amendment was removed from the bill. After two months of deliberating and making edits on March 8th, 2022, Floridian legislators passed the bill. It is yet to be signed by governor Ron DeSantis.

In regards to the discussion of sexuality and gender, the bill finally states that Florida plans on “prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner; requiring certain training developed or provided by a school district to adhere to standards established by the Department of Education”, and “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.”

After my research, I took to the Lambert halls to hear what some Longhorns thought about this widely debated excerpt in the bill.

Out of the two dozen people I asked to interview, three juniors agreed to publicly express their opinions. Supporters of the bill were reluctant to be interviewed and even though anonymity was guaranteed, they all refused. I asked my interviewees about the implications of the bill, how they felt and the bill’s possible ramifications.

When I asked Junior Nandika Saiprasad if she felt that this bill was targeting those in the queer community, she did not hesitate.

“100%,” Saiprasad expressed.

 “It clearly states not to discuss sexuality and gender identity, which is what LGBTQIA+ stands for. It is silencing them in an educational setting,” 

“Instead of creating an educational conversation about sexuality, this bill is just avoiding the topic altogether,” Saiprasad stated.

“ This will be more hurtful than helpful in the long run. This bill avoids kids learning about being gay… being something out of the heterosexual cis norm,” Saiprasad explained.

Saiprasad also believed that by not learning about different gender identities and sexualities early on, then, “you create this unhealthy environment,” where some students could be discriminated against in the future. 

Her final statement stuck with me.

“These students [those who identify with the queer community] are not being protected,” Saiprasad asserted.

In my interview with Kevin Castro, he expressed similar sentiments.

“This is a limitation on expanding a child’s education while they are still growing,” Castro stated. 

“It is prohibiting them from having an open view about other kids,” he said.

He also explained to me that the vagueness at the end of the clause made him believe that this bill would affect all grade levels. He also felt that the bill was unconstitutional and that people were trying to implement their religious agenda into the government.

When he first heard about the bill, he was reminded of the queer community’s history.

“It takes you back to what we have seen in history with the Stonewall Riots,” Castro recalled.

“We have seen how much people in the LGBTQIA+ community have had to struggle for freedom or even just to get married. This bill is a step back. We keep taking steps forward but there is always something that pushes us back,” Castro stated.

Castro was also disgusted by Harding’s amendment and believed that if schools were to reveal a child’s sexuality or gender identity to their parents, it could be disastrous.

“When someone comes out it is their choice… their timing…by forcing them to come out it is completely humiliating because it’s not their decision. Taking this amendment out saves a lot of kids and teens. It could also save lives. There are so many stories of parents beating or abandoning their children simply for being gay or even thinking they are gay,” Kevin affirmed.

Kevin concluded that the entire excerpt concerning sexuality and gender identity was unnecessary as it would just cause trouble.

Junior Sofia Leguizamo was also against this bill that “made people conceal their identity.” She believed that those who made the bill strategically chose younger people. She described that if children are taught at a young age that something is taboo then they will be less willing to accept some gender identities and sexualities. 

“At the end of the day, you can only control your own kids. You should worry about your own children and accept them for whoever they are,” Leguizamo stated.

Recently, a variation of bill 1557 has entered the Georgia state senate and has around 10 sponsors. 

One of the sponsors, Republican Burt Jones explained his stance to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

 “No teacher should be promoting gender identity discussions with small children in a classroom setting(NBC),” Jones stated.

This particular statement is quite comical to me. Times are changing, whether people like it or not. Gender has already been discussed in schools. This discussion has only become an issue when it veers away from the social norm. 

If kids learn that a discussion of gender identity is forbidden, then how will they live in a world that does not abide by this bill? How will they respect others when they encounter someone with a gender identity that they have no knowledge about? If a teacher does not want to be referred to as Mr. or Mrs. because of their gender identity, what do they say to their students?

The other half of the bill that has not been greatly discussed is the section that examines the parental and school role in the matter of a student’s health. 

The bill states that parents will have the power to decide whether or not their child can receive healthcare services from the school. They are also notified whenever these services are in use. Moreover, the bill prohibits schools prohibiting “ school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services”

Opponents worry that students could lose access to potential help as their parents can dictate whether or not they can see the counselor. The vagueness of the bill makes people wonder what information a counselor could reveal. If a child is struggling with gender identity, will they notify the parents before the kid is ready?

Supporters of the bill explain how being notified about their child’s mental health is a parental right. If a parent would be notified about a child’s broken leg, then why would they not be notified if their child is mentally injured?

With this clause, I can definitely see a greater disconnect between students and mental health care services at schools. Depending on how certain schools interpret this section of the bill, some children could be put in harm’s way, like my interviewee Kevin Castro briefly explained concerning revealing personal information. 

On the other hand, parents could create a healthy conversation with their children if they learn about a problem concerning their child’s well-being. 

Overall, as this bill gives parents more control over their children, it infringes on the teachings and privacy of students. 

By enacting Section I of the bill, students are more prone to becoming less understanding of gender identity. They will not be able to comfortably live in the 21st century with this lack of knowledge. 

The health section of the bill could cause students to be paranoid after telling a counselor delicate information, and negatively prevent some children from even receiving these helpful mental health care services.  

As a nation, we must take another look at this bill. We must look at who will be harmed. We must define and deduce what true harm is. We must see how this bill could affect the people of America.