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“The Fight Continues”: LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Education

June 26, 2015, seems like it was yesterday. I remember precisely where I was on that momentous day in LGBTQ+ history. My boyfriend Aaron and I were perched up next to a light pole in front of the Citi Bank on Castro Street. Hand in hand, we stood there in the middle of the street, which had been shut down in true San Francisco tradition to become a political rally or celebration, all dependent on the outcome. The Castro, our gayborhood and a once Gay Mecca for the LGBTQ+ community, was filled with crowds gathered to await the United States Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, which would legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Just thirty-five years earlier, almost to the day, Harvey Milk urged Americans to come out and be their true selves. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes like hours, but before anyone could announce the decision over the microphone, the jumbotron on stage flashed the news. I have never seen such a beautiful sight in my entire life. No matter where you looked, everyone was overcome with emotion - cheering, crying, hugging strangers, and kissing loved ones. As Aaron embraced me as I sobbed into his chest, the energy was palpable as our rights, as American citizens, were upheld in the 5-4 decision (Obergefell v. Hodges).

However, at that historic moment in LGBTQ+ history, we could never have imagined how the fight would have escalated to where we are today in just eight short years. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU, currently, in the United States of America, there are 435 pending anti-LGBTQ+ bills spanning forty-three states, of which 210 target schools and education directly (Mapping Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in U.S. State Legislatures). With the proposed and passed legislation, Republican-controlled states actively censor education and discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community by silencing LGBTQ+ people, deciding how they participate at school, and hindering "...their ability to dream of a future with people like them in it" (Rummler). Through careful analysis of these coordinated attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, we will investigate the negative impacts on our youth and the implications that follow the passed legislation. As a marginalized group in the United States of America, the uphill push for freedom, equality, and equity under the law is an ongoing battle with a very complex, multifaceted history of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Throughout the 20th century, the LGBTQ+ community faced widespread hate, discrimination, and persecution, including the criminalization of homosexuality, social stigma, and workplace discrimination. Emerged from the 1960s and 1970s, the LGBTQ+ rights moment came to a head with San Francisco's Compton's Cafeteria Riots in 1966 and New York City's Stonewall Riots in 1969, as the community advocated for equal rights and protections (Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement). Like the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, this forward progression was met with significant resistance from the conservative "Christians" of the United States of America. To this subset of America, homosexuality is seen as immoral, a threat to traditional values, and an abomination. This resistance reached new heights thanks to political campaigns like Florida Republican Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" in 1977 (Out of the Past: Anti-Gay Organizing on the Right). Bryant, a born-again "Christian," based the campaign on the notion that homosexuals cannot reproduce, thus, they must recruit more to join their community. From this misinformation, hate, and fearmongering flowing into the minds of those within reach of a television screen or radio, a wave of discriminator legislation began to pass across the nation and become a part of the Republican Party platform. Over the next thirty-eight years, the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric would grow as the push for equal rights and marriage equality gained momentum across the country before achieving that faithful day in June 2015. However, that celebration would be short-lived with the rise of Trumpism, which began spewing homophobic, transphobic, and racist rhetoric after Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. According to the "Hate Crimes Against LGBT People: National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017-2019," in the United States of America, "9.2%...of all violent victimizations against LGBT victims were hate crimes compared to 4.1%...of all violent victimizations with non-LGBT victims," proving LGBTQ+ people had a more significant chance of falling victim due the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (Flores et al.) Again, the hate that once was hidden in the shadows away from the political podium found a vessel and emboldened the base of the Republican party, becoming the driving force that caused anti- LGBTQ+ hate crimes to climb. While then-candidate Trump was on the campaign trail, North Carolina became the first state to enact an anti-transgender bathroom bill. In a special session on March 23, 2016, the Republican-controlled supermajority pushed House Bill 2, the "Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act," better known as the "Bathroom Bill" in the media, through the states House and Senate before begging signed by the Governor the same day. The bill repealed a Charlotte, North Carolina ordinance that expanded the state's anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community and "...nullify any local ordinances around the state that would extend equal protections for SGM (sexual and gender minority) people" (Smith). This singular piece of legislation affected and discriminated against over 37,800 transgender people living in North Carolina, of which 15,600 are transgender youth (Mallory). Though a “Bathroom Bill,” this discriminatory legislation expands beyond the confines of a bathroom. Christy Mallory and Brad Sears, legal scholars at the University of California Los Angles’ Williams Institute, underline that LGBTQ+ youth are three times as likely to skip school and twice as likely to drop out, correlating with poor academic performance (Mallory). As the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric grew through the Trump Presidency, Republican-led states began to craft further discriminatory legislation that would ostracize the transgender community further. On March 30, 2020, Idaho's House Bill 500, or the “Fairness in Women's Sports Act,” was signed into law by Governor Brad Little. The America Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, a non-profit organization that defends individual rights, dissects this legislation stating it will "...prevent student athletes from participating in sports according to their authentic gender identity, a departure from current guiding policies from the Idaho High School Activities Association" (2020 – HB 500 – barring Transgender Girls in Sports). Almost as if someone lit a match on the United States of America, copycat legislation was introduced and passed in eighteen Republican-controlled states from 2020 to the present day in 2023 (Bans on Transgender Youth Participation in Sports). However, there is a silver lining of hope as an in-juncture has been filed in Idaho prohibiting House Bill 500’s enforcement. Still in open litigation, Hecox v. Little challenges the bill's constitutionality and could have ramifications across the country if found unconstitutional (Hecox v. Little - Decision Granting Preliminary Injunction).

Contrary to the Republican talking points regarding transgender athletes, the American Psychological Association advocates that inclusive participation in sports would result in “...positive outcomes, such as better grades, greater homework completion, higher education, and occupational aspirations, and improved self-esteem” (Transgender Exclusion in Sports). As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who was harassed daily since the fifth grade for being a gay cisgender male, I know firsthand the saving grace of being a part of a participatory activity at the secondary school level. Though it may not have been a sport, the ability to find a community and like-minded individuals in the “Famous” Robert E. Lee Marching Band furthered my educational journey. In hindsight, without the discipline it provided, I am not sure I would have been as successful as I was. To no surprise, Republican-controlled legislatures and states across the country have escalated their coordinated attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, pushing past the anti-transgender sports bill and beginning to pass legislation to censure LGBTQ+ voices in the classroom. So far, only one state has successfully passed an anti-LGBTQ+ parental rights in education bill. On March 28, 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the highly controversial House Bill 1557, otherwise known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, into law. Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community, outlines that the broad sweeping vague bill "...prohibits instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 and bans instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades 4-12 if it is deemed "not age- appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” (FAQ: Florida's 'Don't Say Gay or Trans' Bill). This bill, in turn, silences the voices of LGBTQ+ people, leaving families, students, and faculty wondering what it means to comply with the ambiguity of this law.

Though the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill was signed into law, the American Bar Association, a voluntary association of legal professionals and lawyers, raises serious legal questions due to the legislation's vague language. Edward Swidriski, an assistant counsel for the American Association of University Professors, outlines three instances that cannot be answered. He questions, “Is it a violation of the law for a school library to carry, or for a teacher to assign, a book featuring an LGBTQ+ character? If a student who has gay parents draws a picture of her family, can the teacher display it along with the other students’ drawings? Is a teacher allowed to say anything if a student is being bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation?” (Swidriski). How do we expect teachers to nurture the next generation of students if they are worried about their lesson plan's implications on their livelihood and possible legal troubles? These questions underline teachers' daily uncertainty and prove that the Republican-led legislation is meant to scare them into submission as it was intentionally written with a massive grey area, not give parents the power they say it does. Though Florida’s House Bill 1557 is the most extreme form of anti-LGBTQ+ education legislation we have seen recently, it is not the first of its kind. According to the Movement Advancement Project, a non-profit independent think tank, in the 1990s, five Republican- controlled states enacted versions of a “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricted the discussion of LGBTQ issues and people, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas (LGBTQ Curricular Laws). Additionally, five states have passed opt-out laws which require parents to be provided advance notice of any LGBTQ+-related curriculum and the ability to opt their kids out of these classes, building on existing sex education laws that allow the same opt-out policy.

While Florida Republican state representative Joe Harding, the sponsor of House Bill 1557, argues that with the passage of the bill, they are “...creating boundaries at an early age of what is appropriate in our schools...” and that it is “...not hate” since the state is funding said schools (Migdon). However, psychiatric, legal, mental health, and crisis prevention professionals adamantly disagree. “When lawmakers treat LGBTQ topics as taboo and brand our community as unfit for the classroom, it only adds to the existing stigma and discrimination, which puts LGBTQ young people at greater risk for bullying, depression, and suicide,” said Amit Paley, the CEO of The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group (Migdon). Unfortunately, the statistics outline Paley’s claim. With the increased anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric from elected officials, the United States of America has seen a 5% increase in LGBTQ teens considering suicide. According to The Trevor Projects' 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 45% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in 2022, increasing from 42% in 2021 and 40% in 2020. In tandem with the increase in considering suicide among LGBTQ teens, The Trevor Project noted that symptoms of anxiety increased by 5% from 2020 to 2022. (2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health). Further rebuking Harding’s claim of creating boundaries, the President of the American Psychosocial Association, Dr. Frank Worrell, stated that “...prohibiting schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity sends a damaging message to young people at a critical time in their development” (Florida Psychological Association Opposes Don't Say Gay And Stop Woke Act). Regardless of the motive behind the Republican-led legislation, a 2019 study of 5000 adolescents outlined that a feeling of “ belonging was protective and may even mediate the relation between victimization and depressive symptoms” (Hatchel et al.). Additionally, a school that encouraged and cultivated belonging through gay-straight alliances, or GSAs, helped reduce peer victimization. Not just does an inclusive educational curriculum create a safe space and sense of belonging for the LGBTQ+ youth, but it allows for an open dialogue for all students to shift their way of thinking to be inclusive. According to psychologist Dr. Gordon Allport, the Intergroup Contact Theory suggests that “...the more exposure or contact that people had to groups who were different from them, the less likely they would maintain prejudice” and is statically proven (Nadal). In a 2019 Pew Research Center study analyzing the public opinion surrounding same-sex marriage over 15 years, the United States of America's view shifted from 60% opposition to 61% favorable view, proving that the positive representation in our media helped to influence change. This change is the same forward motion that an inclusive educational curriculum would evoke in students, allowing for greater empathy as their brains develop. This empathy can save lives, build bridges, and improve our society over time. According to the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 89% of LGBTQ youth reported seeing themselves represented on television or in movies made them feel good about who they are (2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health). However, “representation should never be the final goal; instead, it should merely be one step towards equality,” said Dr. Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal, professor of psychology and author (Nadal). In “Why Representation Matters and Why It’s Still Not Enough,” he further outlines the need for intentionality in representation, “...parents and teachers can be more intentional in ensuring that their children and students always feel seen and validated. By providing youth with visual representations of people they can relate to, they can potentially save future generations from a lifetime of feeling underrepresented or misunderstood” (Nadal).

Nadal’s statement is at the core of the pushback on the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation – to save the lives of LGBTQ+ youth and give them hope that “It Get’s Better.” As someone who contemplated suicide upon receiving the darkest news of my life, testing HIV positive at the age of nineteen, my friends refused to let me be alone, held me up in my time of need, and stuck by me. It is unfathomable to put oneself in the shoes of our youth today as they navigate this discrimination and hate while feeling like they live in a silo. However, it does get better for LGBTQ+ youth if we can provide a safety net through their early years of education. As outlined and analyzed throughout, Republican-led anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country is not based on facts or statistics but on hate, fearmongering, homophobia, and transphobia. However, the opposition to these strategic attacks on the LGBTQ+ community eloquently outlined the need for inclusion, equity, equality, and freedom, as they lead to healthier, mentally stable students with higher grades and lower suicidal thoughts. Though an uphill fight, the fight against censoring education and discriminatory legislation can and will be won in time. Though I remember the momentous day that was June 25, 2016, like it was yesterday, the importance of the events of today affecting the LGBTQ+ community keeps me up at night. However, it is Harvey Milk’s impassioned speech on the corner of Castro Street in San Francisco on Gay Freedom Day in 1978 that keeps the fire for true freedom, equality, and equity under the law lit. He laments, “I’m tired of the silence so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it... I’m tired of the lies of the Anita Bryants and the John Briggs. I’m tired of their myths. I’m tired of their distortions...Gay brothers and sisters, what are you going to do about it?... But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions” (Tracey). Milk’s call to action still rings true today. We must not be silent. We must fight back against the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. We must destroy the lies that our inclusion in the educational curriculum harms students or that transgender students have an unfair advantage in sports. We must fight to protect LGBTQ+ youth and save their lives in the hope of avoiding the loss of another LGBTQ+ generation due to the inaction of the United States government. As LGBTQ+ youth have the “...ability to dream of a future with people like them in it,” we must pave the way for them to fulfill that future at all costs (Rummler).


Work Cited

"2020 – HB 500 – barring Transgender Girls in Sports." ACLU of Idaho, American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, 6 Apr. 2020, 500-barring-transgender-girls-sports.

"2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health." The Trevor Project, 2022,

“Bans on Transgender Youth Participation in Sports.” Movement Advancement Project, 6 Apr. 2023,

"FAQ: Florida's 'Don't Say Gay or Trans' Bill." Lambda Legal, 2 Mar. 2023,

Flores, Andrew, et al. "Hate Crimes against LGBT People: National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017-2019." PLOS ONE, vol. 17, no. 12, 2022, p. e0279363, Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

“Florida Psychological Association Opposes Don't Say Gay And Stop Woke Act.” Florida Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 5 Apr. 2022,

Hatchel, Tyler, et al. “Minority Stress among Transgender Adolescents: The Role of Peer Victimization, School Belonging, and Ethnicity - Journal of Child and Family Studies.” SpringerLink, Springer US, 25 June 2018,

"Hecox v. Little - Decision Granting Preliminary Injunction." ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, 17 Aug. 2020, granting-preliminary-injunction?redirect=legal-document/hecox-v-little-motion-granting- preliminary-injunction.

“LGBTQ Curricular Laws.” Movement Advancement Project, 6 Apr. 2023,

Mallory, Christy, and Brad Sears. “Discrimination, Diversity, and Development: The Legal and Economic Implications of North Carolina’s HB2.” The Williams Institute and Out Leadership, University of California Los Angeles, May 2016, HB2-May-2016.pdf.

"Mapping Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in U.S. State Legislatures." American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, 31 Mar. 2023, rights?impact=.

Migdon, Brooke. “Florida House Passes 'Don't Say Gay' Bill.” The Hill, The Hill, 24 Feb. 2022, say-gay-bill/.

"Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, gay-rights-movement/.

Nadal, Kevin Leo Yabut. “Why Representation Matters and Why It's Still Not Enough.” Edited by Ekua Hagan, Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Dec. 2021, representation-matters-and-why-it-s-still-not-enough.

“Obergefell v. Hodges.” Oyez, 2015,

"Out of the Past: Anti-Gay Organizing on the Right." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,

Rummler, Orion. "10 Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills Impacting Students Go Into Effect Across Six States." The 19th News, 1 July 2022, anti-lgbtq-bills-take-effect/.

Smith, Albert E. "On North Carolina's House Bill 2 (HB2): The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act." National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Apr. 2016, hb2-public-facilities-privacy-and-security-act.

Swidriski, Edward. “Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Raises Serious Legal Questions.” ABA, American Bar Association, 22 Nov. 2022, /fall-2022/florida-do-not-say-gay-law/.

Tracey, Liz. “Harvey Milk’s Gay Freedom Day Speech: Annotated - JSTOR Daily.” JSTOR Daily, JSTOR Daily, 13 June 2022, speech-annotated/.

“Transgender Exclusion in Sports.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Mar. 2021, exclusion-sports.



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