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Chasten Buttigieg says Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill will push kids 'back into the closet'

Proponents say the bill is about "parental rights," but Buttigieg and other critics say it could have a devastating impact on LGBTQ youths' mental health.
Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg, right, then a presidential candidate, and his husband, Chasten, at a campaign event in Milford, N.H., on Feb. 10, 2020. Matt Rourke / AP file

Chasten Buttigieg, a former teacher who is the husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, slammed a Florida bill that would prohibit discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in "primary grade levels."

Supporters of the Parental Rights in Education bill — which was sent to the Florida House's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday — say it's about protecting parents' ability to be in charge of their children's upbringing, while critics have dubbed it the "Don't Say Gay" bill, arguing that it would prevent teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues.

In a tweet last week, Buttigieg said the bill "will kill kids."

"You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in," he wrote, citing a national survey from The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and intervention group, which found that 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year.

"Now they can’t talk to their teachers?" Buttigieg added.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Buttigieg said lawmakers and educators should be approaching that statistic from the Trevor Project "with urgency and with compassion and care."

"In Florida, what kind of state are you building, where you're essentially pushing kids back into the closet?" he said. "You're saying, 'We can't talk about you. We can't even talk about your families.'"

It's unclear exactly what kinds of discussions would be prohibited by the bill and exactly what grade levels would be affected, but the exact text broadly prohibits school districts "from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels." Parents who believe a school district has violated the measure can sue for injunctive relief, damages, attorney fees and court costs.

State Rep. Joe Harding, the Republican who introduced the bill, said during a committee hearing last week that the measure would not prohibit students from discussing their families, according to WFLA-TV, an NBC affiliate in Tampa. He said it also wouldn't prohibit discussions about LGBTQ history, including events such as the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, Florida.

At the same time, he said the bill would ban schools from introducing “specific curriculum or coursework that puts” a student “in a situation where they have to have” a discussion about LGBTQ topics, WFLA-TV reported.

Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the bill would ultimately fuel stigma and accused Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, of playing politics at the expense of young Floridians.

“The Don’t Say Gay bill is yet another cog in the governor’s Surveillance State agenda — a slate of dangerous, bigoted bills designed to allow the state government to police every aspect of our lives," Brandon Wolf, Equality Florida's press secretary, said in an email. "While the bill is intended to race Donald Trump to the right and curry favor with an extremist political base, it has real world consequences. It would further stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate already vulnerable young people, and chill attempts to create inclusive school environments. It is dangerously bigoted and will do immense harm to marginalized Floridians.”

Florida's bill is similar to laws in some states that prohibit positive and affirming representations of LGBTQ people in schools, often referred to as "no promo homo" laws. Four states — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi — still have these laws on the books, according to GLSEN, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ students. Three states also passed bills in 2021 that allow parents to opt students out of any lessons or coursework that mention sexual orientation or gender identity, according to GLSEN.

The so-called Don't Say Gay bill is among a slate of Florida bills this legislative session that target the LGBTQ community, according to Equality Florida. On Tuesday, a Florida House committee passed a bill that allows health care providers and insurers to refuse to participate in or pay for "any health care services that violate their consciences."

During the committee hearing, state Rep. Carlos Smith, a Democrat, asked Republican state Rep. John Snyder, who introduced the bill, whether a provider who believes that contracting HIV is God’s punishment for being LGBTQ can refuse to fill a prescription. Snyder said that, yes, they could, and that the patient would have to look for another doctor.

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