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Column: “Don’t Say Gay” and the right’s rewriting of school curriculums


Various pride pins offered to patrons by UNC's LGBTQ Center in the Pit on Oct. 11, 2021.  

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill into law. The inconspicuously named legislation bars public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.

Nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay,” this bill is a thinly veiled attack against LGBTQ+ communities, both in Florida and elsewhere. Restricting productive conversations about important social and political identities in the name of protecting students is a newfound strategy of the right.

But it’s not limited to DeSantis’ politics.

North Carolina has its own history of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, as well as a lack of policies that protect and empower these communities. And with the start of UNC Pride Week, it’s important to stare these injustices in the face and call them what they are: oppressive and malicious. 

Discriminatory legislation in N.C.

Perhaps the most infamous piece of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to come out of North Carolina is House Bill 2, which was signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016. 

This bill – innocently named the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act – required people to use the restroom that corresponds to their birth gender. This placed an undue burden on transgender North Carolinians. 

In a similar vein, the act excluded many LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination protections. It was a clear attempt to persecute transgender individuals by restricting their ability to make decisions for their own safety and autonomy.

While no legislation since has been as discriminatory, NC still lacks key protections for LGBTQ+ residents.

There is currently no statewide hate crime legislation that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. 

There are also no gender-neutral options for categorizing sex on birth certificates or IDs, and no way to formally change the sex on a birth certificate. There is no inclusive language in family leave laws, leaving gay and transgender parents to fall through the gaps. There are no housing or lending nondiscrimination protections.

What it means to target schools

It is no coincidence that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill will be implemented inside classrooms, nor is this tactic new. Since last year, N.C. Republicans have fought to limit how teachers can talk about race, with critical race theory — or the idea and academic discipline that racism is embedded into legal systems and not exclusively individualistic — being specifically targeted.

It’s a recognition that public schools are important insights into the social and political world for children, and that they are powerful tools for self-identity. Students gain social awareness when they are exposed to diverse ideas in such a collaborative setting.

But limiting the flow of information into and out of schools has been a strategy that the right has aggressively pursued for the last several years. Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ are the newest target of this campaign.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson reported that "liberal indoctrination" runs rampant in our public schools and among teachers. If Florida’s bill has proven anything, it’s that indoctrination is not a steadfast focus on teaching a particular ideology, but the strategic prohibition of issues that one party has deemed out of bounds.

Republicans have successfully created fear around the very strategy they are deploying across the country.

Don’t be afraid to say it

Knowing this, it’s easy to see how intolerance and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments can quickly spread and become a polarizing issue. So, what can we do when oppressive legislation looms over our state?

Most obviously, we must advocate for political candidates that vow to protect and enact anti-discriminatory legislation. Make note of what your state and local representatives are doing to advance this issue as it is threatened elsewhere.

Make it known that social justice and LGBTQ+ rights are a political priority. Vocalize support for LGBTQ+ causes and individuals. Uplift activists and leaders here in our community — visibility is key. 

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Lastly, don’t be afraid to say "queer". It's important to shut down the notion that talking about it is a form of “radical indoctrination,” and recognize the harm being done to LGBTQ+ individuals when claims are made.

Attempts to alienate LGBTQ+ residents in Florida are attempts to alienate LGBTQ+ communities everywhere. Call out this radically conservative rhetoric when you see it.


Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.