NOTe not talking about gender identity or sexual orientation in class, banning books dealing with these subjects in libraries… In the United States, bills limiting discussions on homosexuality or transidentity with children are increasing , reigniting the culture war that is fracturing the country. Schools, mirrors of a divided America, have for months been the scene of clashes over the teaching of racism, history or sexuality.
The latest battle is being played out in Florida, where a text nicknamed by its detractors “Don’t say gay” (“don’t talk about gays”) and supported by Governor Ron DeSantis, a figure of the Republican Party, has taken a step in the Senate on Tuesday. If passed, the law would prohibit teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation up to a certain grade level or in ways deemed inappropriate for young audiences.
The project, firmly opposed by local associations, reacted to the White House. “Across the country, Republican leaders are seeking to regulate what children can read, what they can learn and, more worryingly, what they can be,” a Biden administration spokeswoman said Tuesday. . The law conveys the idea that “simply because of what they are, (LGBT people) are indecent,” denounces Brandon Wolf, of the organization Equality Florida.
Confused LGBT youth
“This is going to kill children,” tweeted Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg, citing a Trevor Project study that found 42% of LGBT youth seriously considered suicide in 2021. However, “talking about these topics in a tolerant setting reduces the number of suicide attempts,” according to Natasha Poulopoulos, a child psychologist in Miami.
From the age of 7, children can have “a pretty clear idea of their gender identity,” she says. Banning these subjects from the school environment would therefore “only lock (them) further in the closet”. “The idea is not to encourage children to talk about sex”, but to give them the opportunity to reflect on “how they feel” and to know “that they can discuss this”, explains Natasha Poulopoulos.
In contrast, Tina Descovich, whose organization Moms for Liberty defends the controversial law, rejects any “discrimination” against certain categories of students. “It’s about allowing parents to raise their children and have a say in what happens to them,” she told Agence France-Presse. Citing the example of a woman who learned that her 13-year-old daughter had had meetings at her school regarding her gender identity, during which she was informed of the possibility of using “the men’s bathroom” , she proclaims: “This is not normal. »
Divisions among parents, teachers and schools
These discussions, like those on sexual orientation, must be carried out “at home”, “at an appropriate age”, also insists Tina Descovich. As a sign of the tension on these subjects, a Californian mother, Jessica Konen, has taken legal action against the school authorities in her county. She accuses two teachers of having encouraged her daughter, then in 6and, to use a male pronoun and first name. Jessica Konen claims to have been kept out of the discussions.
The California Teachers’ Association (CTA), declining to comment on the current case, said it was “concerned” about a climate in which “external political forces” seek to “divide” parents, teachers and schools. Projects similar to Florida’s have sprung up in other states. In Arizona, a text under discussion would force teachers to warn parents if their child spoke about his gender identity.
In Indiana, an elected official has proposed a law that would make it mandatory to obtain parental permission before speaking to students about sexual orientation or trans identity. In Oklahoma, school libraries are targeted. A bill seeks to ban books whose main subject is “sexual preference” or “gender identity”.
An air of deja vu
For LGBT activists, this all feels like deja vu. By the end of the 1980s, a wave of similar legislation had swept through the country. The AIDS epidemic then pushed the authorities to set up sex education courses on HIV, but the conservatives made sure that homosexuality could not be discussed at school, fearing an “indoctrination” of children,” says Clifford Rosky, professor of constitutional law at the University of Utah.
“In recent years, there has been a tendency to repeal” these laws, says the researcher. But in six states, including Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, they are still in place, he said. In Florida, a law already requires schools “to teach the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage”.