Trans, gay teens on how ‘don’t say gay’ law and Texas order harm LGBTQ kids

Published 2022-03-09 12:00

Florida's new law passed on March 8


This week, some students in Canada walked out of school to protest two recent events in the United States that they say are causing harm to LGBTQ youth.

In Florida, a bill passed on Tuesday that will prevent kids in Grade 3 and younger from discussing gender identity and sexuality in class.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 22, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state officials to start investigating parents who seek gender-affirming care for their transgender children as a form of child abuse.

“I wanted to make sure it was known to these kids, that there are people who understand what they’re going through and they’re not just going to sit and watch them get bullied.” - Will Rollo, 16

CBC Kids News asked two LGBTQ teens to share their thoughts on what’s been happening and what they’re doing to tackle it.

First, let’s get a sense of what’s happening in the U.S. that is causing the protests and iron out some important definitions.

More than 100 high school students at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, Ontario, walked out of class on March 3 to protest laws affecting LGBTQ kids in the United States. (Image credit: Angela McInnes/CBC)

Florida’s new law

Florida’s new law, which comes into effect in July, has been called the “don’t say gay” bill by people who oppose it. Officially, it is called the Parental Rights in Education Bill.

The law prevents public school teachers of kindergarten to Grade 3 students from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in their classrooms.

Gender identity is the gender someone identifies with, such as male, female, transgender or non-binary, and doesn’t necessarily match the gender they were assigned at birth.  Sexual orientation refers to the gender identity that someone is attracted to. These include, among others, heterosexuality, when someone is attracted to the opposite gender (a boy attracted to a girl), or homosexuality, when someone is attracted to the same gender (a boy attracted to a boy).

The law also prohibits teaching “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” which some say could be interpreted to apply to students far older than the third grade.

High school students across Florida staged walkouts to protest the education bill last week. Video footage posted to Twitter showed some carrying signs and chanting, ’We say gay!’ (Image credit: ProudTwinkie/Twitter)

Some Republican politicians in the U.S. say the bill is meant to prevent schools from promoting ideologies — or a set of beliefs — that they see as inappropriate to young students.

Republican state Sen. Danny Burgess said that Florida should “trust the child’s parents” to have these types of discussions and that the bill gives parents, rather than schools, the authority to do that.

The Texas order

On Feb. 22, the Texas governor ordered officials to consider reports of gender-affirming care for transgender kids as child abuse.

Transgender typically refers to someone who identifies with a gender that doesn’t match the gender that they were assigned to at birth.  Gender-affirming care varies, but it often involves working with medical doctors or psychologists to help the person socially or medically transition to the gender that matches the way they feel inside.  A social transition may involve things like coming out as transgender, using different pronouns or wearing different clothes. Someone transitioning to female might start wearing dresses, for example.  A medical transition can involve a number of medical procedures, including taking hormones that help someone’s body grow more in line with the gender they’re transitioning to.

Abbott's order goes against the stance taken by the nation's largest medical groups, including the American Medical Association, which view gender-affirming care as beneficial and effective.

Transgender allies participated in the March for Trans Youth outside the Texas State Capitol on March 1 to protest Gov. Greg Abbott’s order for state officials to treat gender-affirming care for transgender kids as a form of child abuse. (Image credit: Charliekeelingover/Instagram)

On March 2, U.S. President Joe Biden denounced Abbott's directive as a “cynical and dangerous campaign targeting transgender children and their parents.”

Currently, it’s unclear how the order will hold up in court, since it was not passed as law, but the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is already investigating several parents of transgender youth.

Teens say these changes are damaging

Will Rollo, 16, led more than 100 students to walk out of class at his school in London, Ontario, on March 3 to protest the new rules in Florida and Texas.

Will is a bisexual trans-masculine boy, meaning he is attracted to both males and females and was assigned biologically female at birth but now identifies as a male. (Image submitted by Will Rollo)

Will, who said he was bullied “relentlessly” as a kid for his identity — and was even assaulted for being transgender — said he doesn’t want LGBTQ kids in the U.S. to feel alone.

Even if Canadians aren’t being directly affected by what’s happening in the U.S., he told CBC Kids News that standing up is his responsibility as part of the LGBTQ community.

“I wanted to make sure it was known to these kids that there are people who understand what they’re going through and they’re not just going to sit and watch them get bullied.”

Brody Neville, a 12-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, agreed.

Brody, who lost nearly all of his friends when he came out as gay last year, said that the new laws could be harmful for gay and trans kids just looking for acceptance.

“It could make them really sad that they can’t be themselves, and some people, homophobic people, might even be happy.”

After coming out as gay last year, none of Brody Neville’s friends came to his birthday party. His mom put out a call on social media for people to attend a surprise birthday party, and more than 100 people showed up. (Image submitted by Leah O'Donnell)

He also said that discussing LGBTQ lifestyles at a young age would have had a positive impact on him.

He said it could benefit kids in the U.S., too. 

“I feel like it would help them come out and help them feel supported. It could also make them feel brave.”

Kids need access to safe information

Will said he sees the Florida bill, in particular, as hypocritical.

He said that the bill claims to prevent discussions around gender identity and sexuality, but it’s actually only preventing discussion around genders and sexualities that fall outside the norm.

That’s because, he said, what’s normal is already woven into the curriculum, through books and pictures that depict mommies with daddies, girls in dresses and boys in blue, for example.

“The idea that we can avoid gender or sexuality until age nine is preposterous. Me, personally, and everyone I know have been fed cisgender, heterosexual media since we were born.”

BOARD 3 Cisgender refers to those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, which applies to the majority of people on Earth.

Will said that the new law will ensure that kids who don’t see themselves as cisgender and heterosexual will feel lost and alienated and will simply delay their journey of self-discovery.

“We need it in the classroom, because we will go looking for it in other places and it will just breed more problems. All this bill is doing is preventing students from getting that info in a safe, healthy and monitored way.”

Similarly, Will said that the order from the governor of Texas will simply delay transgender teens from getting the care they need and will signal to transgender kids that who they are is wrong.

What should Canada do?

Will said he wants Canada’s political leaders to stand with the LGBTQ community and take action to help stop what’s happening.

“Our minister of education and Justin Trudeau should officially denounce these bills and express their support for LGBTQ+ communities in the U.S.”

CBC Kids News reached out to the federal government for a response.

Johise Namwira, a spokesperson for the minister for women and gender equality and youth, said the office advocates internationally for LGBTQ communities and that, “the stigma that fuels homophobia, transphobia and biphobia must be eliminated.”

Brody also suggested that sending support could really help the kids in need. 

“We could create more awareness of what’s happening. Maybe we could also all send encouraging tweets or posts on social media about the kids who might be affected by this.”

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With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and Angela McInnes/CBC

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