By Tristan Leach
When I was in high school, I had a history teacher named Ms. Combs. Known affectionately as “Mama Combsie” by her students, Mama was the person to go to. She was a safe space, and she was committed to teaching all history. She taught us true history, disregarding the out-of-date textbook.
In her quest to teach all history, Mama also taught us LGBTQ history. As a lesbian, this was one of my greatest educational experiences. Here was a teacher who thought of us as important: our history mattered. She taught me that my sexuality was valid, important and beautiful. She encouraged me to talk about myself and my community.
Three years later, I am sitting on my bed in my dorm. My TikTok is filled with videos about Florida’s Parental Rights in Education act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics: a bill that prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms in the state. Video after video expresses the genuine fear and disgust that students, staff and parents have as this bill advances further into law. I am sitting on my bed wondering how we got here.
My LGBTQ peers and I sit together and all we can talk about is this bill ‒ a bill that erases us, erases our elders and now works to quiet the next generation.
Growing up in the United States education system meant getting a very idealistic view of our history. We were taught that the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims when in reality they were subjected to mass brutality by the settlers. We were taught that slavery ended hundreds of years ago, but its legacy lingers on to this day. And now we may add LGBTQ history to the list.
You may be reading this and thinking history isn’t talked about in this bill. It is though. When we allow for the erasure of entire groups, their history goes with them. By keeping children from talking about who they are and how they want to express themselves, we invalidate the human truth.
I’ve heard every argument in the book. “You’re shoving sexuality down my child’s throat,” or “You’re influencing my child.” Children are impressionable and will repeat what they hear. If we repeat hate for a community of people, the children who hear it will repeat it. Children listen, and if they hear hate, they will say hate.
The kids who are a part of Generation Alpha, the youngest generation, are growing up and discovering themselves. Their schools should be supporting them, providing resources that support their sexuality and gender identity. Banning speech about identity and orientation won’t stop kids from being themselves. It only leaves them in the dark longer about an entire community that they may be a part of.
As of March 8, the act has been passed by Florida’s state senate. I am afraid; sure, it is one bill today, but it may be 10 tomorrow. In Texas, government officials have started investigating parents of transgender children. Officials in Texas believe that by parents allowing their kids to have gender-affirming surgery and care, they are abusing their children.
We are a community who have worked through every hardship. When people try to silence us, we make even more noise. There will always be LGBTQ people. Since the beginning of time, we have existed. We, as a nation that is built on the idea of freedom, must work together to protect our transgender kids, our gay kids, our nonbinary kids, our asexual kids ‒ the list goes on and on.
As I write this I think about Mama Combsie, about how her talking about the community made me feel safe, comfortable and cared for. My hope for this generation is that they get to be themselves, that they are enabled to express their sexuality and gender identity. I hope one day it will be okay to say gay again.
sophomore journalism major and The Rider News features and entertainment co-editor
Originally printed in the 3/23/22 issue.