‘Grooming children for hate’: Dem lawmakers, LGBTQ activists rally against amendments to LGBTQ instruction bill
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/10/22-Rep. Michele K. Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, third from left, is joined by Reps. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, left, Felicia Simone Robinson, D-Miami, Gardens, Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, fourth from left and Kamia L. Brown, D-Ocoee, after the House Health & Human Services Committee approved a bill to institute a 15-week abortion ban, Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. All pictured voted against the bill. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

'Banning the discussion of LGBTQ people doesn't get rid of us. It just makes our lives harder.'

By the time they were eight years old, Will Larkins knew they were different. But without the tools to understand that was okay, Larkin’s young life was already in jeopardy.

“I was not exposed to the existence of the LGBTQ community,” Larkins said. “By the age of eight I developed a deep hatred for myself. I wanted to play with girls’ toys, dress in girls’ clothes and I didn’t know why. I thought I was broken. Banning the discussion of LGBTQ people doesn’t get rid of us. It just makes our lives harder.”

Larkins, a 17-year-old Winter Park student who identifies as gay and non-binary, joined other LGBTQ students and activists as well as Democratic lawmakers Monday to speak against a suite of GOP-backed bills making their way through the Legislature. HB 7 and HB 1557, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, would limit how and when race, gender and sexuality can be discussed in schools. 

HB 1557, in particular, bans classroom instruction “on sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade. The measure also blocks such instruction when it’s done “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Opponents fear the bills would prevent difficult, but necessary, conversations around race, sexuality and gender identity from being held in the classroom.

Larkins said they’ve experienced how damaging that can be from both sides. Larkins has felt the self-hate a lack of understanding and knowledge can do to someone, which can often be fomented at home by unaccepting families. LGBTQ youth account for about 40% of the youth homeless population, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. And the National Alliance to End Homelessness found 80% of gender non-conforming homeless adults don’t have access to shelter, as compared to 40% among cisgender adults. The Trevor Project found LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to consider suicide than cisgender counterparts.

Critics of the new GOP-backed measures warn preventing conversations around race and gender from taking place in schools is political pandering that can fuel hate and violence born of ignorance.

Rep. Michele Rayner, an out-Black woman, said the bills are “smoke and mirrors” amounting to state-sponsored discrimination.

“With this whole thing of these trigger words — family values and grooming and all of those kinds of things,” Rayner said, “the only people that are grooming anybody are these Republicans who are grooming their base and the children that are in their base for hate.”

The choice of how, when and to whom to come out to can be deeply personal and often is met with a threat of violence. Critics also warn a recently introduced amendment to the bill would take that choice away from an LGBTQ individual. The amendment could force educators to out students to parents.

Larkins has experienced the dangers of ignorance as well as the comfort of having a safe place to talk. In October, Larkins was at a Halloween party when a group of students attacked them. Larkins was told to “f-word kids and f-word animals. Telling me I’m going to hell and reducing my identity and existence to ‘f****t.'” Larkin was told to leave or the group would “beat the shit” out of them.

Larkins’ only saving grace, they said, was a queer teacher at school who was able to comfort Larkins and tell them things would get better. But with “Don’t Say Gay” bills in place. Larkins and others worry there will be more attacks and fewer places for vulnerable children to find safety.

“She took care of me when the administration at my school looked the other way,” Larkins said. “If House Bill 1557 had been in policy at this time, my teacher would not have been able to talk to me about it. Schools should be a safe space for us because not everyone has a safe space at home.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected].


  • PeterH

    February 21, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    The educators prime task is to prepare children to enter into a society as it exists today ….. not some imaginary social construct preferred by DeSantis or his merry band of right wing losers.

  • Ron Ogden

    February 21, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    “Opponents fear the bills would prevent difficult, but necessary, conversations around race, sexuality and gender identity from being held in the classroom”

    Why are these conversations necessary among certain school children? Why do they have to be held in government elementary school classrooms? Let’s hold them in our churches, synagogues and mosques. Let’s open the discussions to all who wish to take part, and let’s invite (not REQUIRE) parents to bring their children to these discussions. Let’s have people explain why destroying symbols of history helps them sleep better at night. Let’s explain why some groups get to march down the street under their flags with pride but others are jeered and cursed. Let’s explain why some racial groups get their own history month, but others don’t. Let’s let all kinds of people of all ages make up their own minds; let’s promise not to call them names when they don’t agree with currently popular points of view. Let’s promise to be tolerant of them, maybe even stop damning them as White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Can we do this? Doubtful.

  • Tjb

    February 21, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Just want to know who are the folks that are “jeered and cursed”.

  • Matthew Lusk

    February 21, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    Self hate is probably a good thing if you are a queer. One should not feel good about oneself if you are sinning against GOD.

    • Ebony

      February 25, 2022 at 10:38 am

      YOU SOUND SO FUCKING DUMB RIGHT NOW. who are you to judge who GOD loves. SELF LOVE and being Comfortable in one’s own skin is the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ communities are part of this generation more than ever before. You must be in a time warp. You are the reason why your kids and grandchildren will carry around hate towards others that don’t look like you or have the same ideologies. SHAME ON YOU SIR!! EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THIS COMMUNITY! They are the definition of POWERFUL and RESILIENT. You are the biggest LOSER because you’re missing out on getting to know really good people who might even save your life one day! SHAME ON YOU MATTHEW LUSK!

  • Matthew Lusk

    February 21, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Let’s be vocal and make the Republican Party for straight people only. Let the losers vote with the democrats and Christians vote with The party of conscience.

  • comments

    February 21, 2022 at 4:36 pm

    no one is a nero scientist it might fall on deaf ears.

Comments are closed.


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