It’s no longer ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in Florida—it’s don’t be gay


photo by Caitlyn Hale

Recently, the Florida House of Representatives introduced HB 1423, which aims to ban children from attending drag performances. The GOP’s political agenda is built around make-believe problems, conveniently ignoring real issues, like mental health and gun control.

The first time I saw a drag performance, it was at Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando. I was 12 years old, and when the dancers came to my table, I smiled and clapped. I did not question my beliefs, my sexuality, or my gender. I did not feel like I was in “immediate serious danger.” But according to Gov. Ron DeSantis, I was. According to Florida House Bill 1423, I was traumatized by the performance and needed protection.

HB 1423, also known as “Protection of Children,” was introduced into the house on March 3. Its purpose is to prohibit children from attending “adult live performances” that depict nudity or sexuality, consequently fining, suspending or revoking the license of any establishments that allow children to see them. They claim that these shows put kids in danger and appeal to “prurient, shameful or morbid” interests.

At first glance, the bill seems like another unnecessary attempt to block children from seeing inappropriate content. However, the implications are already being felt in our community, and it hasn’t even passed yet. At Boone High School in Orange County, the annual “Drag and Donuts” event was shut down because it did not align with what the Florida Department of Education stands for. 

This event was not a drag show. It was just a drag queen talking to students about their life. 

The FLDOE promises that education is a top priority, then takes away harmless things that make students feel like they belong. They are conveniently ignoring—really, worsening—the depression and social anxiety that plague LGBTQ+ communities on our campuses. Drag queens do not pose a danger to our students. Censorship does. 

Even though the bill’s primary intent is to shut down drag, it calls many other popular performances into question. School musicals like “Something Rotten” have sexual, even queer undertones—could they be banned under the bill? Even predominantly straight shows, like “The Crucible,” have mentions of sex and infidelity. Does this fall under the FLDOE’s umbrella of an “adult live performance,” or will it get a pass because it does not include anything gay? 

It’s clear that the Florida GOP’s intent is not to protect our children—it’s to shut down our LGBTQ+ community. Yes, kids don’t need to be exposed to overly sexual entertainment, but that is not what these performances are about. Just like any other dance or vocal act, drag is an art. Silencing these performers from talking about who they are hurts them. Bill by bill, queer people in Florida are losing their freedom of speech. 

Of course, this isn’t the only bill aimed at the LGBTQ+ community in 2023. In February, HB 1069 was filed, which targets the discussion of sexuality and gender in schools, a devastating extension to last year’s “Parental Rights in Education,” or “Don’t Say Gay,” legislation. This bill explicitly states that schools must be promoting abstinence out of wedlock and “teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.” 

The FLDOE is all about parental rights until they support gay people. It’s fine to push straight marriage, but if a gay teacher so much as mentions their relationship, they can lose their job. Last May, a Lee County teacher was fired after she told her middle school students that she is pansexual, upon being asked. At this point, the Florida government isn’t even trying to hide their homophobia—they want to pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist. 

Florida continues to move backwards, searching for a 1950s society in a 2023 world.  The GOP is catering their political agenda to make-believe problems, rather than addressing things that actually harm children, like guns and poverty. Ask yourself what is the biggest danger facing students today: getting shot at school or seeing a guy in a dress?