The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Censored for existing

April 24, 2023

The suppression of LGBTQ+ discussions in educational spaces became officially legal with Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” — otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” — bill, and now we’re seeing it happen again in Missouri’s “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” (SB 134). This new bill targets LGBTQ+ discussions even further, aiming to ban all discussions of LGBTQ+ subjects from kindergarten to high school, as opposed to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which originally only targeted kindergarten through third grade up until a recent change targeting all grades. These bills do not truly aim to “protect” children from exposure to inappropriate subjects at a young age; they aim to eradicate all discussions of LGBTQ+ topics from the classroom, further censoring an already marginalized group. LGBTQ+ discrimination is quickly spreading into educational spaces that should be open to learning about acceptance and kindness.

“There were some people saying [the bill] was to protect kids from sexualization, or that kids don’t know who they are because they’re just kids, but when I was a kid, I knew exactly who I was; I just didn’t know the terms for it. If I did know what gay meant or what trans was, I would have very easily been able to say who I was because that never changed. I just learned new terminology,” sophomore Ash Herring said.

However, the implications of SB 134 have much more dire effects than just a lack of education. Current drafts, such as Missouri’s Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bill No. 134, assert that any educational personnel who have received information of a student’s change in sexual or gender identity must notify the student’s parents within 24 hours. The parents must also be notified when a student requests to use a name or pronouns that are not officially associated with the student’s assigned gender at birth, and teachers may not encourage or introduce students to gender reassignment therapy or surgery. In other words, SB 134 requires all teachers to out students who share this confidential information with them in the same way a teacher is required to report mentions of self-harm or suicidal ideation, further insinuating that these lawmakers correlate the “dangers” of being non-heterosexual to harming oneself. Teachers who do not comply would be at risk of losing their teaching licenses. Currently, Parkway requires that teachers report many things, including but not limited to possible abuse, sexual harassment, self-harm, safety concerns and drug use.

The ramifications of this bill transcend the individual, the classroom and the education system itself. When a minor is outed to their parents, they are at a much higher risk of being disowned, and as disownment rates increase, so does homelessness. In fact, The Trevor Project found that 28% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, and 14% of LGBTQ+ youth reported being abandoned or kicked out by caregivers.

Overall, as a society, we generally agree that homelessness is not a fair living condition for any human being, regardless of how they ended up in the situation. However, this bill is fighting for the exact opposite: being outed directly correlates to an increased risk of homelessness, and for what, simply existing? If anything, it’s odd that fully grown adults are obsessing over minors’ sexualities and gender identities, identities that present no danger or risk to other students. Just as a cishet student can exist without being questioned and censored, an LGBTQ+ student deserves the same rights.

This is especially essential due to a lack of basis for censorship. In many schools, health classes contain units on the human body and heterosexual relationships, and in almost every classroom, heterosexual relationships are casually mentioned daily, such as teachers mentioning spouses or students mentioning partners. There is no reason to exclude LGBTQ+ people from the same privilege. Bills like SB 134 and “Don’t Say Gay” limit learning spaces by imposing religious values onto students who may not be a part of those or any religions. Many of these people preach to “love thy neighbor” — unless, of course, “thy neighbor” is gay.

“Don’t Say Gay” provides gateways to hypocrisy and discrimination in educational environments. Whereas a cisgender, heterosexual teacher could mention their spouse or partner casually in a classroom, an LGBTQ+ teacher could be ridiculed, disciplined or even fired for the same action.

“A lot of the time, people use religion to defend intolerance. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing or not understanding, but there is something wrong with not accepting,” Herring said. “I’m not a Christian, personally. My family is mostly Christian; they are very accepting of other people and other religions. Unfortunately, sometimes very religious households can be very unaccepting towards people in the queer community.”

Some of the most commonly known religions in opposition to LGBTQ+ individuals include Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelicalism, whereas religions like Unitarian Universalism are almost fully accepting. This begs the question, why do one religion’s values precede another? The truth is, they shouldn’t — especially when those values create a gateway to increased youth homelessness rates and escalated mental illnesses.

While mass shootings, new laws and hate crimes are much more frequently covered in the media, there are still smaller, unnoticeable forms of discrimination occurring daily that are just as deadly. These occur in the forms of biased remarks, cyberbullying, exclusion and harassment. The GLSEN 2021 National School Climate Survey showed just how common these anti-LGBTQ+ incidents are and in turn, how commonly they get dismissed by staff and administration.

Though a small comment in passing may seem insignificant, the overwhelming amount of these comments and perceived “small” actions add up to a much larger monster. In the climate survey, over 30% of LGBTQ+ students reported being physically harassed in 2021, and over 10% reported being physically assaulted, all based on identity. Additionally, over 60% of LGBTQ+ students have never reported instances of victimization to school staff. Out of the reported occurrences, over 60% of the time, staff and administrators took no action. This is the issue: LGBTQ+ discrimination has been so deeply ingrained into society that students are learning to stay silent instead of reporting since reported instances often go ignored or brushed aside. It is imperative that these issues are addressed in classrooms so that we may begin to form an understanding society and an accepting learning space.

What may seem to be a simple form of censorship to lawmakers — who have little else to do than force LGBTQ+ minors into potentially dangerous living situations — is a threatening omen of the future: LGBTQ+ censorship is becoming increasingly prominent once again and for nothing more than pure existence.

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