At the age of eight, Will Larkins knew they were different. But without the tools to figure out that all was well, Larkin’s young life was already in jeopardy.
“I haven’t been exposed to the existence of the LGBTQ community,” Larkins said. “At the age of eight, I developed a deep hatred towards myself. I wanted to play with girl’s toys, dress up in girl’s clothes and I didn’t know why. I thought I was broken. Banning the discussion of LGBTQ people does not get rid of us. It just makes our lives more difficult.
Larkins, a 17-year-old student from Winter Park who identifies as gay and non-binary, joined other LGBTQ students and activists as well as Democratic lawmakers on Monday to speak out against a series of bills. bills backed by the GOP running through the Legislature. HB 7 and HB 1557which 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, prohibits classroom instruction “about sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade. The measure also blocks such teaching when it is carried out “in a manner that is not appropriate for the age or development of students in accordance with state standards.”
Opponents fear the bills would prevent difficult, but necessary, conversations about race, sexuality and gender identity from taking place in the classroom.
Larkins said they saw how damaging it could be on both sides. Larkins felt the self-loathing that a lack of understanding and knowledge can do to someone, which can often be fomented at home by families who don’t accept it. LGBTQ youth represent approximately 40% of the homeless youth population, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. And the National Alliance to End Homelessness found 80% gender non-conforming homeless adults do not have access to shelter, compared to 40% among cisgender adults. the Project Trevor found that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to consider suicide than their cisgender counterparts.
Critics of the new GOP-backed measures warn that preventing conversations about race and gender from happening in schools is political convenience that can fuel hatred and violence born of ignorance.
representing Michele Rayner, a non-black woman, said the bills were “smoke and mirrors” amounting to state-sponsored discrimination.
“With all this stuff of these trigger words — family values and grooming and all that kind of stuff,” Rayner said, “the only people who care for anybody are those Republicans who care for their base and the kids who are in their base out of hatred”.
The choice of how, when and to whom to come out can be deeply personal and often comes with the threat of violence. Critics also warn that a recently introduced amendment to the bill would take that choice away from an LGBTQ person. the amendment could require educators to report students to parents.
Larkins knew 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 college students attacked them. Larkins was told to “f-word children and f-word animals.” Telling myself I’m going to hell and reducing my identity and existence to ‘f****t.’ Larkin was told to leave or the band would have ‘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 be better. But with the “don’t say gay” bills in place. Larkins and others fear there will be more attacks and fewer places for vulnerable children to find safety.
“She took care of me when my school administration turned a blind eye,” Larkins said. “If House Bill 1557 had been in effect at the time, my teacher wouldn’t have been able to tell me about it. Schools should be a safe space for us because not everyone has a safe space at home. House.