Accepting pride: recent legislation is having an impact on student groups at NHS

It was the twenty-sixth of June when thousands of Americans crowded streets across the United States, flying rainbow flags and crying tears of joy as the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges in all fifty states. Colorful celebrations erupted nationwide and for the first time ever, many in the LGBTQ+ community felt safe enough to publicly express their identities. 

Marriage between same-sex couples was only recognized as legal in the United States in 2015. Seven years later in 2022, the struggle towards true equality prevails yet again, as bills that suppress LGBTQ+ voices make their way through state legislatures. Expression and acceptance is something that is highly valued at NHS, but the buzz of discrimantion has arised once more.

Although freedom was once promised, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination from from lawmakers in several statehouses.

When same-sex marriage was legalized by Obergfell, many LGBTQ+ advocates believed that America was making strides towards equality; now, with recent bills passing through state legislatures such as Florida and Alabama — described as “Don’t Say Gay” bills by critics — some here at NHS believe that the United States has taken several steps back in regards to LGBTQ+ equality. 

Although the specific content of the “Don’t Say Gay” bills differ from state-to-state, the bills essentially target discussion regarding sexual orientation or gender identity within the classroom. Florida’s infamous bill seeks to prevent these discussions from occurring in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. Lucian Dixon, a junior at NHS whom identifies as both non-binary and bisexual, says the “Don’t Say Gay” bills are likely to limit queer youth. 

“The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills [are] essentially [attempting to erase] any important education on individualism, identity, and safety,” Dixon said. “It will make students with LGBTQ+ parents, relatives, or [who] are LGBTQ+ themselves feel out of place and invalid.” 

Freshman Andy Havener, who identifies as transgender, believes that the bills inaccurately represent the LGBTQ+ community. 

“It restricts education on large parts of our history and teaches LGBTQ+ kids that they are ‘inappropriate.’ It blatantly sexualizes the identities under the LGBTQ+ community despite the fact that we are no more sexual than people identifying as straight and [cisgender]. We are people just like anyone else and our history and identities deserves to be taught just like straight and cisgender identities are,” Havener said. 

When the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills first began to receive backlash from critics, supporters of the bills pointed out that the bills never explicitly mentioned the LGBTQ+ community. Junior Caydence Louck, whom identifies as a lesbian, believes this ambiguity is intentional. 

“It’s a bill with extremely vague wording on purpose. This allows [lawmakers] and the government to play around with what is or isn’t allowed based on what they want. The bill itself never actually says the word ‘gay’ but it’s being passed to allow schools to ban teachings about LGBTQ+ history, sex education, critical race theory, and other issues that are controversial,” Louck said. 

Although the bills never mention LGBTQ+ specifically, Louck — as well as many others — see the bills as a step backwards in terms of equality.

“[The world has] made so much progress in the past ten years and now people want to get rid of that,” Louck said, “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just a person, who has no ill intentions, but who’s treated as something gross, wrong, and sick.”

Despite the anxiety these new bills have caused LGBTQ+ youth, NHS counselor Andrew Smeathers believes that it is important to live in the present — to not get so caught up in a mindset that only takes into consideration the worst outcomes. 

“I know that it’s really easy to get caught up in the headlines of what we read coming out of Washington DC [but] I think sometimes we have to be able to shut off the media… it’s so easy to get caught up in headlines,” Smeathers said. 

Even with the passing of these bills nationwide, many members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies remain optimistic for the future. 

“I hope that future generations of LGBTQ+ people will have a more accepting and safe environment… I hope that one day LGBTQ+ people will be allowed to live freely and openly without fear of what others will do to them,” Havener said.