Transgender advocates fear a bill passed by the Florida legislature will put LGBTQ+ youth at risk in the name of keeping parents more involved in decision-making.
Marketed as a parental bill of rights, queer teens say the legislation, if signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, will result in students being outed at home even if that can result in abuse. "Safe spaces are being called into question with this bill," said Lakey Love. "This is an attack on LGBTQIA+ students."
The bill passed days after a high-profile piece of legislation targeting transgender girls playing sports apparently stalled in the Florida Senate. But Love fears this bill, while grabbing fewer headlines, may pose an even greater risk to students expressing identities at school they cannot present at home. Ostensibly, the bill would allow parents to opt out of certain school programs and even let them decide not to vaccinate ther children. The most concerning aspect of the legislation, especially for LGBTQ+ students, is that it would inform parents if their children access mental health services through school.
For the record, the lawmakers behind the legislation deny their intention is to out youth to their parents. During committee hearings, State Sen. Ray Rodrigues said the legislation simply collects parental rights already enshrined in Florida law and places them in a single section of law, according to Florida Politics.
"What we are doing is putting them in one central location so lay parents can find them," he testified.
Speaking to The Advocate, Rodrigues reiterated that all rights cited in the legislation either stem from existing statute or court rulings and case law. The only new requirement on school districts is to publish and provide parents with a list of those rights.
But in a press conference held before the Senate passed the bill, legal experts and LGBTQ+ students said the language reaches farther.
"You only need to look at the bill itself to see that there are many new principles that would be codified into law," said Carrie Boyd, of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Current Florida law does not expressly provide for medical care of a minor requiring parental consent."
That means currently a child 13 years or older can make their own decisions about seeking mental health services and counseling. That also allows teenagers seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases to do so without a parent being informed. The bill passed by the legislature effectively could change that, and would also require all biometric data to be released to parents.
For LGBTQ+ students, they now can confide in teachers and school counselors privately about issues of gender identity and sexuality. While Rodrigues says conversations with a mental health professional remain confidential under the law, advocates say teachers and administrators will almost certainly read this law as a requirement to share such personal information with parents or risk termination.
Rodrigues said the concern about private conversations on gender identity or sexuality are misplaced. There is no requirement for districts to disclose any such information. But he said schools already have an obligation if parents request medical information to provide records.
Ash Soto, a nonbinary student, spoke at the press event about the inherent risk many students have for their safety. For some, it could turn the schools into a way for abusive parents to keep tabs on them.
"Most LGBTQ+ youth end up getting kicked out of their homes and their friends parents end up taking them in, which harms them with the parental rights bill," they said.
Love noted National Coalition of Homeless data showing 40 percent of homeless youth on the streets identify as LGBTQ+.
But Love said their greatest concern may not even be the potential for outing as much as the opportunity for parents to meddle in LGBTQ+ policies. Included in the bill of rights is a chance to challenge objectionable material in schools. Already, there are individuals in Lee County, where Rodrigues represents, challenging guidelines posted on campus grounds about tolerance and allowing students to use restrooms conforming with their gender identity.
"This leaves the ability for a parent to petition School Board staff for neglecting to tell them about someone who was speaking or handing out something with a Gay Straight Alliance or something about going off from a heteronormative or cisgender narrative," Love said.
Rodrigues again said that's already covered under state law, and has been for three years since legislation about objectionable material passed.
"Nothing has changed," he said. "That is the law today, and it will be the law tomorrow even if the governor vetoes the bill, which I don't think he will do."
Neither do LGBTQ+ activists, who feel the bill remains a plot by the social conservatives who helped DeSantis win election in 2018.