Florida's anti-LGBT legislation has received much criticism already, but one group has been overlooked in the discourse. The children of LGBT parents will be significantly harmed by this proposal, and their concerns need to be taken into account.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has generated an understandable amount of anger from LGBTQ activists. The new bill, backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, would ban discussion of sexual orientation in primary schools. Activists argue that these “no promo homo” laws, laws that restrict or completely ban discussions on homosexuality, are significantly harmful to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately at risk for suicide. Although concerns for LGBTQ youth are entirely justified, many of the articles and think pieces being churned out in response to the new bill ignore a significant stakeholder—the children of LGBTQ couples. LGBTQ advocates have already expressed concern over the wellbeing and safety of LGBTQ youth if the bill is passed. Supporters of this bill should not only consider LGBTQ youth as important stakeholders in this legislation but also the increasing number of nontraditional families across America. “If this bill had been enforced and one of my kid’s classmates would have said why does Blake have two dads, the teacher would have been forced to say go home and talk to your parents about that,” father and civil rights activist Todd Delmay told Wink News. Put simply, a bill banning the discussion of homosexuality will significantly affect children whose “All About Me” board might not feature Mom and Dad.
Since the legalization of gay marriage in the US and the “gayby boom” that began in the 90s, scholars have been releasing various types of research pertaining to the development of same-sex couples' children. The research ranges from that of Richard Fitzgibbons, a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which listed 11 ways in which the children of same-sex couples end up developing in an unsatisfactory way, to the research of scholars at Belgian university KU Leuven, which argues that children of same-sex couples academically outperform children of opposite-sex couples. The problem with both these reports is their failure to account for social determinants of health and learning. The social environment in which children of same-sex couples live and grow in America is very unique. One of the few scholars who has authentically researched and reported on the advantages and disadvantages faced by the children of same-sex couples is Tosca Langbert. Her Harvard Political Review article, “The Gayby Boom is Here to Stay,” drew on her own experiences as a child of a same-sex couple to accurately depict the struggles posed by societal and historical marginalization. These unique experiences—including second-hand exposure to homophobia and the task of “coming out” for one’s parents in the classroom—explain why the Belgian researchers found conclusive evidence regarding the outperformance of children with same-sex parents over those with opposite-sex parents.
To understand this concept, one can look at the similar phenomenon that can be seen in the outperformance of immigrant children over American-born children. Part of the reason why these groups tend to succeed is the immense social pressure stemming from the idea that children represent the community from which they come. Children coming from non-marginalized families, such as those who have white or opposite-sex parents, do not have to worry about representing white people or validating the parenting rights of straight people, but the children of immigrants and the children of the LGBTQ community face constant pressure to positively represent the historically attacked groups to which their parents belong. A similar trend can be seen in Black communities. People who claim that Black students dropping out of school more frequently than white students is a sign of Black parents not doing enough for their children fail to understand the systemic racial inequities contributing to a child’s likelihood of finishing school. For children of immigrants, failing means throwing immigrant families and people who wish to immigrate to America in a negative light. For children of same-sex parents, failing means throwing non-traditional families and LGBTQ couples wishing to raise children in a negative light.
This unique lived experience, which forms a child’s social determinants of health and learning, can also explain Fitzgibbons’ research to an extent. The claims Fitzgibbons makes about the children of same-sex couples not trusting people as much as children of opposite-sex couples and suffering from a broad range of emotional and social problems can actually be explained by the social determinants of learning and health. Fitzgibbons’ research is flawed from the start, considering he quotes Pope Benedict XVI in a piece on child development rather than relying on child development professionals without conflicting interests. However, the most prominent issue with his research is his attribution of emotional and social problems to some sort of flaw in the parenting of LGBTQ individuals rather than the systemic oppression of LGBTQ people—opression that contributes to “second-hand” homophobia, discrimination, and pressure to succeed. Harmful research like Fitzgibbons’ will only become more common if the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is passed and the children of same-sex couples are further stigmatized to the point where they cannot talk about their families.
It is imperative that politicians like Governor Ron DeSantis fully understand the implications of this bill being passed. Children of same-sex couples are not the only overlooked stakeholders in this highly intersectional issue. More attention needs to be given to the rising suicide rates of LGBT youth, the disproportionate risk of LGBT youth of color to consider suicide due to bullying and harassment, and the rise in anti-transgender violence. Those who support the passing of this bill should consider its relationship with the cycle of socialization and the perpetuation of oppression. I would advise people like Governor Ron DeSantis to ask themselves what message is being institutionally enforced and think critically about whether their intended goals match the “Results” bubble in the cycle of socialization diagram. As Todd Delmay points out in his tweet, “I can't imagine sending our son into this kind of environment where just talking about his family could put his teacher at risk. And what does it say to other kids that it isn't ok for his family to be different?”
Chloe Baldauf is a first-year International Studies major. She serves as a Staff Writer for the Agora.
Image courtesy Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons.