Several Florida mental health professional organizations criticize ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Florida Today | By Bailey Gallion | March 17, 2022

Several associations of Florida mental health professionals issued a joint statement Thursday condemning controversial legislation that would limit instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, saying it could harm students’ mental health.

The bill, titled Parental Rights in Education, passed in the Florida Senate on March 8 and the Florida House in February and awaits Gov. Ron. DeSantis’ signature. Critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and fear it will chill conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity beyond the actual purpose of the law and potentially harm the mental health of LGBTQ students.

Students at Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School on Merritt Island participate in Thursday's protests of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Students at Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School on Merritt Island participate in Thursday’s protests of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Photo By Teresa Kalarovich

Supporters have said there’s no reason young students should be taught about sexual orientation or gender identity in a classroom, and that the bill expands parents’ control over their children’s education.

The bill outright bans encouraging classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and states that discussions in later grades must be “age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate.”

Parents who feel schools have violated the law would have the ability to sue. It would go into effect July 1.

In a news release, the agencies called the bill “discriminatory legislation” that could increase suicidality in already vulnerable LGBTQ youth.

“We have all stood in opposition this past session to HB1557 Parental Rights in Education or the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill,’ and many of our members stood in solidarity with youth who participated in the #DSGWalkout,” Angela Mann, president of the Florida Association of School Psychologists, said. “Now we are beginning to see the ill effects of the introduction and passage of this harmful law.”

The joint statement was signed by seven organizations:

  • The Florida Association of School Psychologists
  • Florida Association of School Social Workers
  • Florida School Counselor Association
  • Florida Association of School Nurses
  • Florida Association of Student Service Administrators
  • Florida Parent Teacher Association
  • Florida Psychological Association

“Schools should be welcoming, safe and inclusive places for youth, families and staff members who identify as LGBTQ+,” the organizations wrote in the joint statement. “We want students to know that they are seen and valued just the way they are. We will all strive to continue to provide and advocate for affirming, supportive and safe spaces for students.”

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