Students across the state of Florida have been staging walkouts this week, after the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill landed on the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 8. Florida state senators voted 22-17 in favor of the bill, with all Democrats and two Republicans voting against it.

The following day, students in Weston, Del Ray, South Florida, and other parts of the state walked out of school in protest. The bill, formally titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, states that it prohibits "classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity" in the state's primary schools. Those who oppose the bill have pointed out the problems with passing a discriminatory bill that emboldens reactionary homophobia.

“This is going to endanger the safety of our LGBTQ students and adolescents,” says Sen. Annette Taddeo. “We will not stop until this state moves forward and actually values everyone in it, everyone no matter their sexual orientation.” 

Dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by its opponents, the bill is the latest discrepancy in American school curriculums. During the past year, schools have seen animosity between parents and administrators over masks, trans athlete policies, book bans, and the existence of critical race theory.

"It's dehumanizing. We’re not animals. We deserve to have rights. We deserve to be talked about," said sophomore Aliya Barbancourt, who organized Thursday's walkout at Atlantic Community High School.

More than 40 students participated, carrying signs and waving flags. The school's principal even followed students in a golf cart.

"At first I thought we would have to turn around and go back to class, and then we didn’t," Barbancourt said. "A bunch of people started following us and they started chanting with us."

Those who support the "Don't Say Gay" bill, like Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, believe there should be "an age limit on certain discussions," like sexual orientation and gender.

But that begs the question: what about parents, students, teachers, and other school officials who are members of the LGBTQ+ community? If our young children accept that a Disney princess and a Disney prince kiss and live happily ever after because we tell them that's okay, then why should members of the LGBTQ+ community have to be excluded from that?

My oldest daughter is in kindergarten, which means if she lived in Florida, she'd be the targeted age range for these rules. Some may say that five and six is "too young" for discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity—and that's fine if some parents believe it is too young, I suppose. But she still comes home almost every day to tell me who has a "crush" on who, so believe me when I say young children are capable of understanding a lot more than they get credit for.

She also loves Jojo Siwa, and wanted to watch her on Dancing With The Stars last fall. She asked why Jojo wanted to "dance with a girl," so her father and I explained why. It's pretty simple, after all—she wanted a dance partner that better reflected who she is in real life. Not only did my daughter fully grasp this concept, and the fact that Jojo identifies as gay, but she was completely unfazed by it. She wasn't scarred for life, she wasn't clutching any pearls—nothing. She thought it was, and I quote, "awesome" watching two girls "dance better than anyone else."

In response to the "Don't Say Gay" bill and student walkouts, United Teachers of Dade issued a statement through their president, Karla Hernandez Mats.

“Being that zero, nada, none of our educators in the entire state of Florida teach about sexual orientation to any child in k-3, the malicious and absurd intent of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is evident,” she said. “This is an attack on teachers and students who may be gay or have gay family members. The homophobic and extremist agenda put forth by the GOP Florida legislature aims to harm one of the most vulnerable communities in our student body.”

The thing is, not talking about sexual orientation and gender identity doesn't make queer kids any less queer or trans kids any less trans—just like not talking about heterosexuality and being cisgender wouldn't change who those people are, either. Pretending a vital part of humanity does't exist does more harm than good, right? Shouldn't human rights be considered far more important than other people's discomfort?

Florida Democrat Shevrin Jones, the first openly gay Florida state senator, grew emotional as he urged his colleagues to narrow the bill’s language to say instruction should not be “intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“I ask that you open up your hearts just a tad bit,” he said, specifically addressing the name-calling and shunning he had faced as a gay child and man. “Please, do no harm.”