What Does the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Mean for School Counselors

boy sitting cross-legged, wearing goggles and a hat, making airplane arms, with wooden toy of plane next to him

On March 8, 2022, new legislation was enacted by the Florida Senate by means of House Bill 1557: Parental Rights in Education that will go into effect July 1, 2022. According to the bill, parents and guardians are the ones who shall remain in control of what dialogue their child has in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, and no school personnel should engage in these discussions as it may interfere with what the family chooses for the child to know/think.

According to the law school counselors follow, counselors do not have to report things to a parent or guardian if the child may be in danger by their reporting. For example, if a child reported abuse by a parent, the counselor is required by law to report that information to the Child Abuse Hotline, but do not have to tell the parent they are making a report. The bill itself states “This subparagraph does not prohibit a school district from adopting procedures that permit school personnel to withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect…” (section 8c2).

In many homes, a gay or transgender child would be in danger if the parent or guardian was aware of their true nature, so students often hide who they are at home to keep the peace, and express themselves more freely at school. Many schools have become safe havens, allowing children to use their preferred names and pronouns.

What does this law mean for these children, now?

It is useful to delineate that this bill applies only to children in grades K-3 (section 8c3). At those ages, most children do not know their sexual orientation or gender identity, but some will. The bill wants the family to be the primary source of information at these young years and to steer the child in the direct they feel is most appropriate. Of course, there are those families that will use fundamental religion as a weapon against children who are not both heterosexual and cisgender, and this bill does give them the express right to do so.

There was fear around this bill before it was in its final form (as linked in the first paragraph above) that a homosexual teacher could be fired for answering the question “What did you do this weekend?” with “I went to the movies with my wife,” when a heterosexual teacher would have no consequences for saying the exact same thing. However, the bill states that students shall not have “classroom instruction…on sexual orientation or gender identity…that is not developmentally appropriate.” I read this as: it is absolutely developmentally appropriate to say “families look lots of different ways – some people have 1 parent or 2, or grandparents or aunts and uncles who live in the home, some have siblings or none, some have 2 moms or a mom and dad…” even at the Kindergarten level. In fact, I’m certain Sesame Street must have taught me this (and it did: Here and Here and Here and Here). Will a child get in trouble, or be hushed if she says she has 2 dads? No. This is developmentally appropriate.

Will a school counselor have to call the parent when a child says they think they have the wrong body and want to talk about it? Not necessarily, but maybe. Since this bill states that parents are to be kept in the know about what is going with their child, to be “notified about a change in his or her student’s [healthcare] services” (section 8c5), it would be prudent for the counselor to notify the family that the counselor met with the student at the child’s request and the child brought up certain issues or concerns. In this meeting, the counselor would be advised, according to this bill, to remain neutral, teach the child to remain calm, and suggest the child speak to their family about the matter. However, if the child expressed that they would be “abused, abandoned, or neglected” as a result of telling the family, the counselor would be wise to make a note of how the child expressed this, what they presented as the issue, how the counselor responded, and what the session consisted of; this protects the counselor in case the issue ever goes to court.

If the child is in the 4th grade or above, no change needs to take place. Children in progressive schools that have created the kind of safety that allows for use of their preferred name and pronouns can still employ those practice. Schools with a Safe Club that allows kids to express themselves and their feelings and thoughts around sexuality and gender can still hold those meetings. However, it would be best if those meetings were run by the students, for the students, and not led by a staff member, but overseen by a staff member; this ensures that it is not seen as the children being indoctrinated by anyone with an ulterior motive.

Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Florida and Georgia. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Twitter & Facebook.

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