Dear Florida and Texas lawmakers, dear union leadership of the AFT and UFT,
“Is there anything we can do about the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill in Florida?’ It’s really scary.” a student asked in a small “Spectrum of Love” afterschool club in Elmhurst, Queens, NY. The impact of this prejudiced and hate-filled bill is felt well beyond the borders of Florida, where it has passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
As queer, trans and ally educators in New York City and across the nation, and as teachers of queer, trans, and ally students, we are angry and upset that lawmakers in Florida are voting to “block teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues or people and undermines existing protections for LGBTQ kids in schools.” We are angry and upset that Texas Governor and Attorney General’s directives to investigate trans healthcare as child abuse.
We, queer, trans, LGBTQIA+ people, are in schools, we are in communities, we exist. We already face an increased rate of discrimination, bullying, harassment — whether being told we’re in the ‘wrong bathroom’ when just trying to pee in peace, to harassing language from coworkers, to bullying on social media and in the classroom that has led to much higher rates of suicide and depression amongst LGBTQIA+ children. Acceptance, exposure, and pride in our identity is a suicide prevention strategy in schools. Our students’ lives are precious.
We write this letter to tell Florida anti-LGBTQIA+ and Texas anti-trans lawmakers, and those that support them, that their actions have been shameful, hateful, and have no place in the politics, or the classrooms, of 2022.
We commit to discussing gender identity, sexual orientation, and the diversity of the rainbow of identities in our world in our classrooms, because we know we exist, our students exist, and we all deserve to be recognized as human beings in school.
As MORE-UFT shared in 2016 after the PULSE shooting, also in Florida:
“New York state has strong anti-bullying legislation. The Dignity for All Students Act, mandates each school have an anti-bullying liaison, mandates anti-bullying training for all teachers, mandates anti-bullying training for all school staff, and provides steps for students and parents to take action when bullying does occur.
We know that to truly counter bullying we must educate ourselves and our students about the history of the LGBTQI fight. Therefore, we demand that the NYCDOE mandate that LGBTQI history be taught in every school through the creation and implementation of a comprehensive LGBTQI history curriculum.
Therefore we also demand that all stakeholders including the UFT, NYSUT, NYSED, NYCDOE, AFT, and NEA support this initiative by adopting the American School Counselors Association(ASCA) Ethical Standards which states that, ”Each person has the right to be respected, be treated with dignity and have access to a comprehensive school counseling program (hire more counselors to make this possible) that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations including: ethnic/racial identity, age, economic status, abilities/disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity and appearance.
We know the law itself does not create classrooms and hallways free from bullying. Individual teachers standing up in their classrooms, supporting students’ right to be themselves, encouraging students and staff to support each other, teaching language of love rather than hate, building safe spaces like GSA*s, coming out and being proud of who they are – these are the actions that build schools free from bullying. We support teachers supporting their own and their students’ right to be out and proud about who they are – be it gender identity, sexuality, religious identity – their right to be.
New York City has been promoting trans-friendly bathroom policies “Look Past Pink and Blue: In NYC, you can use the restroom consistent with who you are” but all of us in schools know that this is easier signed into law than enacted in practice. Our members have had to fight at their schools to have trans-friendly bathroom policies put into place. We support teachers in their schools asking what their school’s policies are and supporting students and staff using the bathroom consistent with who they are.”
Unfortunately, so much from 2016 still applies today. We ask our union leadership (UFT/AFT) to speak up against this bill, to phonebank members to advocate, as many retired members vote in Florida, and to protect educators and students against the anti-trans law in Texas. An injury to one is an injury to all. Let’s use our collective power to fight for all students and educators to be free to be themselves at school, and at their place of work.
Support the student walkouts in Florida! Join us by taking action in your workplace. Take a photo with a sign saying “We Say Gay” and share on social media #WeSayGay and #ProtectTransKids, tag @MOREcaucusUFT