In My Words: What the f**k is going on in Florida?

In My Words: What the f**k is going on in Florida?

Welcome to In My Words, Real Talk's very own opinion column, where we dive head-first into frustrations, hot takes, and soap-boxes surrounding conversations about sex. Let's be real, because we have a lot to say and we're not holding back.

Simply the phrase “don’t say period” feels like a note out of the Handmaid’s Tale – a dystopian story where women lose all power and bodily autonomy. Lately, it seems that Florida is eager to lead us down an eerily similar path. In the past year or so, Florida has placed strong restrictions on what can and cannot be taught in schools. They passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, an array of book bans, and the latest in HB 1069, the period talk ban. These will effectively prevent children from even a morsel of a comprehensive sex and gender education.  

The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly not the only dystopian novel Florida seems to be imitating. I was shocked to learn that the troublesome book-ban includes just about the entirety of John Green’s catalog (come on, that's what I grew up on!), Skipping Christmas, and Catch 22. Excuse the pun, but it feels like Florida has literally taken a page out of 1984, where books are burning, history is being rewritten, sex and expression of individuality are forbidden, and don’t-you-dare challenge The Party. 

Books like Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars were medicine for my angsty teenage heart. While they cover serious topics like suicide, teenage sex, and death; these things really do happen to teenagers. My friends and I were all having sex as teenagers; and no amount of sex-ed, or lack thereof, was going to change that. I knew multiple teenagers who committed suicide. By the time we reach 18, most of us have experienced death in some form. Books and media about these topics help us feel less isolated. So why ban these books? It’s part of a larger problem of Florida limiting information accessible to impressionable young populations. The kicker? With HB 1069 all it takes for someone to remove a book from schools is to challenge it, and poof- gone. Excuse the language, but I’ll say it again, WHAT THE F**K. 

Alright, so we’ve established the book ban is f**ked, let’s talk about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, bans educators from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was first enacted in March 2022 and banned the conversation in grades kindergarten through third. The recent addition with HB 1069 bans the topics of sexual orientation and gender through grade twelve, the entirety of public school education.

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis claimed, "It's not something that's appropriate for any place, but especially not in Florida." The reality of this is children in Florida will gravely suffer. LGBTQ youth everywhere already face higher health and suicide risks then their cisgender peers.  HB 1069 also bans the use of alternative pronouns through twelfth grade. This means a teacher could get in trouble for calling a student by their chosen pronouns. It literally forbids teachers from respecting their students’ identities. 

Brandon Wolf, press secretary for LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida, gave an example to TIME Magazine of what this bill could mean.  “[If a teacher] in English class mentions that a family might have two moms, under the proposed expansion in the legislature, the parent of a student could sue the school district and the school district would be liable for the fact that a teacher acknowledged that LGBTQ people exist.” This. Is. So. Concerning. How is erasing queer identity from schools POSSIBLY helping children or families? What happened to freedom of speech? Just some questions I’m screaming into my pillow. 

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention efforts among queer youth, veraciously criticized the bill. "[The bill erases] LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves." They explained it could force teachers to out queer students to their parents. It is important to note that in a 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming. All of this said, this bill is beyond dangerous for Florida children. 

Still, Florida just keeps going. In May of this year, HB 1069 (dubbed the “Don’t Say Period” bill) was signed into law. In addition to restricting conversations about sexual orientation, this new bill goes even further to restrict what is able to be taught in sex-ed classes. The “Don’t Say Period” bill effectively prevents teachers from giving the “period talk” until grade eight. 

Here’s the thing… The reality is most girls get their periods before the eighth grade. We recently did a survey of our team, friends, and community on when they first got their period. The results revealed what we already knew: so many girls get their periods in or before 8th grade, some even before they reach middle school. So why the f**k would we prohibit impressionable girls from learning about their bodies, the vessels they live in, until it’s too late. We need more period talk EARLIER, not later. 

Prior to the disaster happening in Florida, we already had a massive sex-ed crisis in the US. Many school districts teach primarily abstinence-only sex education. This means that teenagers choosing to engage in sex learn nothing about how to prevent STIs and pregnancy, and they don’t touch on consent. Girls and boys don’t learn about each other's bodies, and this has a ripple effect to an array of problems beyond unplanned pregnancies, abortions, infections, assault; but also why women are less likely to orgasm, why ED isn’t understood, and so much more. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, comprehensive sexual education, “seeks to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality—physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships. It views sexuality holistically, as a part of young people’s emotional and social development. It recognizes that information alone is not enough. Young people need to be given the opportunity to acquire essential life skills and develop positive attitudes and values.”

Comprehensive sex-ed is a NEED. 

In a state with abortions banned after six weeks, would you not want to teach your youth how to take care of themselves and prevent pregnancy? HOW can we shy away from talking about something that is quite literally the scientific reason we are all here. Knowledge is power, and the more young people know about and understand their bodies, the better equipped they are to  make safe sex choices to PREVENT them from getting pregnant. 

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