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Dear Governor DeSantis and other anti-LGTBQ legislators,
Let me be frank: your recently-passed legislation --the "Don't Say Gay" bill-- banning classroom instruction on LGTBQ+ people, history, or identity is harmful, discriminatory, and downright wrong. By eliminating this community of people from conversations in the classroom, you automatically silence educators' right to create safe classroom environments; apply equitable practices; and teach real, nuanced history. You silence students and their rights to freedom of expression, exploration of self and identity, and healthy growth and development. So, what are you trying to solve exactly?
Developmentally appropriate practice, perhaps? Well, let's break down your picture of "developmentally appropriate practice." The "Don't Say Gay Bill" is founded on the idea that children in grades K-3 are not yet developmentally ready to talk about gender identity and sexual orientation. This legislation also shares ideology with recent bans and protests of books portraying authentic representations of Black people and People of Color, slavery or enslavement, colonization, and any stories centering on the voices of BIPOC people. All these bans stem from the same point: cisgender, heterosexual, wealthy, white discomfort.
However, this picture of "developmentally appropriate practice" is disproved by decades of research into young children's racial and identity development. Children are ready to talk about race, gender identity, and sexual orientation! Lousie Derman-Sparks –a child development expert and researcher– describes how children at the age of 3 and 4 absorb societal stereotypes surrounding race, physical ability, and language differences. By age 5 and 6, children begin exploring aspects of their self and group identities –including gender– and begin showing how societal bias affects their developing identities. Children will continue the cycle of intergenerational discrimination if these societal stereotypes and biases are not prevented at a young age.
Young children absorb everything around them. These little sponges notice our words and conversations but also notice our silence, discomfort, or distancing from certain subjects. So, instead of meeting their curiosity and awareness with intention, preparation, knowledge, and grace, you are suggesting we force a single, unrealistic, monolithic view of who humans are, who they can love, and how they can express their identity and complexity.
By not integrating these concepts into the early curriculum, you erase entire populations of people from their mindset. If children do not learn about diversity in its true depths, social contexts, and histories, they will develop deep-rooted biases against those populations. By eliminating LGTBQIA+ people and their history from the curriculum, children are set up to continue the intergenerational cycles of systematic racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
On another note, are you trying to progressively change the education system? No, because first, excluding a community of people and restricting freedom of expression is regressive, not progressive. Second, limiting educators’ access to topics, curriculum, professional development, reform, and continuing education contributes to the national teacher shortage. Teachers have the right and responsibility to create a classroom environment and plan lessons that reflect the needs, backgrounds, interests, and stories of the children in their room. Their classrooms must be a welcoming space for children to explore themselves. . .to be safe discovering new things, experimenting with words, asking questions, and having deep conversations. Therefore, this action diminishes teachers’ professional capacities and duties to effectively teach future generations.
Now, I know that you and other legislators will likely never see this blog post, and if you did, you would quickly dismiss it along with its contents. However, I do not seek your approval. Instead, I choose to use my voice and platform to speak against the "Don't Say Gay" bill and other anti-LGTBQ+ legislation. As a future early childhood educator, I know what developmentally appropriate practice looks like, sounds like, and feels like in a K-3 classroom. I hope to debunk your claims about what is "right" for our future generations and share suggestions for a progressive, equitable education policy that will restructure the system.
I will not be silenced by your fear tactics. I will continue to speak up about equitable practice and what our students truly need in school to grow into capable, strong, persistent, well-informed, empathetic, and loud human beings. I will continue to fight for my future students’ right to learn about history from multiple perspectives and their right to feel safe and represented in my classroom.
So please, sit down. Use your power and position to listen, not preach. Put yourself in your place as a politician, not an expert. Your words, and your beliefs should not be law. Instead, the words, research, stories, campaigns, and needs from real educators --the real experts-- should be reflected as new legislation is crafted. Because if you were really doing this "for the kids," this bill would not have been passed in the first place.
Action Network: Oppose Florida's Anti-Gay Bill
MoveOn: Stop Florida's "Don't Say Gay" Bill
NPR: Florida's Governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed 'Don't Say Gay'
Louise Derman-Sparks: Identity and Cultural Development Research
NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct
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Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.