How the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill May INCREASE Child Grooming

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Over the past few weeks I’ve had a few requests from viewers to talk about the now-infamous “Don’t Say Gay” Bill that Ron DeSantis has just signed into law in the state of Florida. I’ve avoided it thus far because, honestly, after talking about the anti-trans directive in Texas, I was just kind of too depressed to do another one that is so similar. Because as I’ve mentioned before in regards to laws regarding the teaching of creationism in science classrooms and laws restricting the bodily autonomy of women and other people with functioning uteruses, the standard operating procedure for conservatives is to introduce similar bills in as many states as possible at the same time using the same tactics. That’s what’s happening now with anti-LGBTQ legislation: the directive in Texas, an anti-trans sports bill in Iowa, a ban on LGBTQ library books in Oklahoma, and yes, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

But you guys are right, what’s happening in Florida is worth talking about regardless of whether or not I really feel like it, because this specific bill has launched very specific efforts in other states in addition to the anti-trans panic. So, let’s jump in.

First of all, “Don’t Say Gay” isn’t the actual name of the bill, it’s propaganda. It’s good propaganda, and I mean that in three ways: it’s very effective, it’s fact-based, and it’s morally correct, all of which is why I will continue to use it. However, it’s worth noting what the bill actually says, because it helps to know what its supporters believe (or say they believe) is its intended purpose.

HB 1557 is dubbed “Parental Rights in Education,” which should be an immediate red flag if you’ve heard the names of all the bills trying to stop sex ed or evolution from being taught in schools. The bill covers a few things but the relevant bit for us is this:

“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

If you think that sounds really vague, that’s because it’s supposed to be.

Vague legislation is bad no matter which side of the aisle tries to pass it. To make a point, allow me to cite the outrageously conservative, libertarian, anti-same-sex-marriage, anti-science Koch-financed think tank Cato Institute, who wisely explain:

“Vague laws involve three basic dangers: First, they may harm the innocent by failing to warn of the offense. Second, they encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement because vague laws delegate enforcement and statutory interpretation to individual government officials. Third, because citizens will take extra precautions to avoid violating the law, vague laws inhibit our individual freedom.”

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but: I couldn’t agree more with the Cato Institute on this important issue.  Again, we’ve seen the use of this kind of vague language before in anti-science legislation, and it happens for a very good reason: if they get any more specific, the law would be declared unconstitutional before it even gets out of bed. They KNOW they can’t say “Teachers can’t reference the existence of gay or trans people in the classroom,” so instead they get as close as they can: “teachers can’t talk about sexual orientation or gender identity at all.” But because our society defaults to straight and cis people in every way, this inherently means that the “normal” will continue to be talked about constantly: no one is going to use this law to outlaw books and lessons about mommies and daddies, but they will use it to outlaw books and lessons about mommies and mommies. Each thing is, in reality, equally “about sexual orientation,” but only one is considered by a mostly straight society as “other” and over the top.

That’s why “Don’t Say Gay” is, in fact, a perfectly accurate nickname for this bill. A school can be sued if a teacher references the existence of gay people at all, which becomes a pretty sticky situation if, for instance, a child has questions about who “can” marry whom, concerns about their own sexuality or gender identity, and even if a child has same-sex parents. “Hey teacher, why does Jayden have two dads and I have a dad and a mom?” “Sorry Hazel (I don’t know what people are naming their kids these days), that topic is OFF LIMITS.”

But the bill’s supporters argue that it is not appropriate to call it “don’t say gay.” Again, they have to argue that because otherwise it is blatantly unconstitutional. So, what do they say this bill is really about? Child sex abuse.

Uh oh, looks like it’s time for a content warning! I’m about to discuss some seriously upsetting topics, including the grooming, abuse, and rape of children.

Seeing, and possibly fearing, the success opponents were gaining with the name “Don’t Say Gay,” the conservatives reached for their own catchy title. Christina Pushaw, official spokesperson for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, seems to have settled on “the Anti-Grooming Bill:”

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call “Don’t Say Gay” would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw wrote on Twitter. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill,” “you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

Okay, first of all let me just get the “hypocrisy” issue out of the way. Here’s a list of Republicans I can currently think of with accusations of sexually abusing minors:

Florida Senator Matt Gaetz is under investigation for “sex trafficking (a) 17-year-old; violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for prostitution; and obstructing justice.”

Florida Representative Mark Foley sent sexually explicit texts and emails to teen congressional pages.

Representative Jim Jordan presided over a wrestling team during the time that a team doctor sexually abused at least 177 students, several of whom said Jordan knew about what was happening but chose to do nothing.

Former speaker of the house Dennis Hastert was, to directly quote his judge, a “serial child molester.”

Roy Moore was so well-known for preying upon teen girls that, according to the New Yorker, he was banned from a local shopping mall.

Colorado representative Lauren Boebert’s husband was arrested for exposing his penis to a group of teen girls at a bowling alley when he was 24. One of those teen girls? Lauren Boebert. I love a good meet-cute story.

Tennessee representative John Rose was 41 years old when he attended a convention with his future wife Chelsea, who at the time was a 17-year old high school student on a field trip with her Future Farmers of America club.

And then of course there’s the entire life of Donald Trump. Yeeeeeah.

Do Republicans have the market cornered on pedos? Obviously not. The Democrats had Anthony Weiner and who knows who else, but I think it’s pretty clear that the Republicans have no real platform from which to claim that the Democrats are the ones in favor of grooming kids.

Now on to the idea that discussing the existence of LGBTQ people is “grooming.”

Equating the idea of simply acknowledging the existence of gay or trans people with sexual perversion is nothing new. Homosexuality has been considered a “deviant” behavior, with all the moral baggage that word implies, for literal millennia. In fact, there is no objective basis for categorizing homosexual sexual activity as “immoral” when it occurs between consenting adults, same as heterosexual sexual activity. But various cultures over the years have occasionally decided it’s no good, possibly because it threatens a male-female binary that is a central part of a hierarchy that places straight, cis men at the top. Religion has been extremely useful to uphold that hierarchy, which is why often these homophobic objections come along with exhortations that it’s in direct opposition to God Himself, the same thing we hear about feminism or even anti-fascists, like in this recent clip of Jordan Peterson crying and comparing himself to Cain, or maybe Abel, I’m not sure.

To further the idea that homosexuality is evil and wrong, it has been connected to child abuse for at least the past 60 years. As Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate:

“This outlandish and bigoted notion has deep roots. You see this assumption in the infamous 1961 short film Boys Beware, which warned schoolchildren against predatory homosexuals and was produced in part by (of course) a school district. You see it in the failed 1978 campaign to ban gay teachers from California schools. You see it in Board of Education v. National Gay Task Force, a 1985 case in which the Supreme Court struck down an Oklahoma law barring teachers from “encouraging or promoting” homosexuality. (The state cited a need to protect “student morality” and “traditional cultural values,” worrying about student “imitation” of gay teachers.) You see it in many ads supporting Proposition 8, which asserted that legal same-sex marriage would force educators to indoctrinate kids. (Tagline: “It has everything to do with schools.”) Now we see it in Florida, Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma—it’s a safe bet that a “Don’t Say Gay” bill will gain traction in every state legislature controlled by Republicans.”

Despite conservatives trying to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia, the two don’t appear to be related in the least. As you may have been able to tell from my earlier list of “sexually deviant” Republican politicians, predators target both boys and girls, and despite my list being all male predators, both men and women can be predators. Psychologists point out that there doesn’t appear to be any greater percentage of pedophiles amongst homosexuals; pedophilia is a “paraphilia” that exists independently of a person’s sexual orientation.

Despite this, Florida’s new bill really could significantly change the number of children who are “groomed” by predatory adults: it could increase that number. Here’s how: predators look for easy prey. And when it comes to a pedophile hoping to abuse a child, the easiest prey is a child who is ashamed – ashamed of their own body, ashamed of their own sexuality, ashamed of any discussion of sex. Experts agree that one of the best ways to protect a child from being groomed is open and honest communication. Here’s a fact sheet from Michigan State University that points out one way to protect your child is to teach them “early and often” about consent and respect in relationships. An educated child is a safer child, and a child who isn’t afraid to speak up to a trusted adult, like a parent or a teacher, is a safer child.

So what happens when we raise kids to think of homosexuality or transgenderism as “naughty” topics that are off-limits in school? The same thing that happens when we decide that they shouldn’t learn about their own bodies, or about sex: when a predator abuses them, they take on the shame and believe the groomer when they tell them they need to keep it a secret. What happens when we muzzle teachers and threaten them with lawsuits if they answer kids’ questions about relationships, gender, and sexuality? Then those kids lose the ability to bond with an adult outside the home who they know they can go to for help if they need it, for instance if they’re being abused at home.

It all reminds me of conservative Christian anti-abortion and anti-sex ed legislation: they say they care about one thing, like stopping abortion, and then they do the exact opposite of what would actually do the thing they say they want. Research shows that outlawing abortion doesn’t significantly reduce the number of abortions; it just reduces the number of SAFE abortions, which means more people undergoing unsafe abortions and dying. Research also shows that what DOES reduce abortion is early comprehensive sex ed taught in school and free prophylactics handd out like candy. But they don’t do that, because the real purpose of these laws is to control women’s bodies.

Just like that, the same people SAY they want to reduce the number of kids who are groomed by pedophiles and then enact legislation that will do precisely the opposite. They don’t actually care about kids – the real purpose is to criminalize gay and trans people.

I’ll end this the same way I end all of these types of videos: this bill has inspired copycat bills across the country in at least 10 states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas are all rushing to catch up to Florida. If I said the name of the state you live in, find out who your representative and write or call them and tell them how you feel. If I didn’t say the state you live in, look up your representative anyway and make sure they aren’t considering this, because I guarantee you there will be more. And vote, vote, vote in the midterms because this is only going to get worse when more Republicans are in office.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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