• Cindy Mundahl

Legislating Identity

If you pay attention to the news, you may have noticed an interesting clash taking place this month. A new Gallup poll indicated that 10.5% of Gen Z people identify as LGBTQ+, an increase of nearly 3% since they were last surveyed in 2017. Meanwhile, the far right seems to be growing increasingly fearful of this trend as evidenced by a new bill before the Florida state legislature called “Don’t Say Gay.” Not only would this bill ban teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in primary schools, its latest amendment would require schools to notify parents within six weeks if it learns that their child isn’t straight. Parents would also be able to take legal action against the school if it fails to notify them.

It’s hard to find this law anything but heinous and damaging to young kids, not only LGBTQ+ kids, but straight kids as well. They’ll all be taught by the adults in their lives to not explore their identities, that being their true selves is wrong and shameful. For straight kids, it teaches them that hate and intolerance are acceptable. I believe the goal of this legislation is to keep a firm hold on heteronormative culture as the preferred and dominant sexuality, regardless of how many lives it destroys in the process.

Language is important, especially for young kids. You can’t be what you can’t name or see. If kids don’t hear gender and sexuality discussed in their homes or at school, they will need to look elsewhere for adult role models for who they are, and for many, that may take years to find. I know from my own experience of growing up without queer role models or language, that I felt lost and alone trying to find a name for the difference I felt so deeply. I believe this disconnection I felt within myself was the primary reason for my mental health issues. Turning against myself, thinking that I was flawed left me mired in shame for years when all I really needed was to be introduced to the queer community so that I could see there was a place for me in a world that didn’t resemble how I experienced it.

My hope is that Gen Z will continue to push the boundaries of gender and sexuality until they dissolve and future generations of kids will feel empowered to explore their identities unencumbered by the fear of the adults in their lives. Florida representatives are trying to legislate identity and I believe that they will fail, but not without doing major damage first. If even one child learns to hate themselves for who they truly are, then it’s too many. We need to stop persecuting people for living their truths. These legislators would be better served to look inside themselves and address the reasons why they fear people living free. Everyone should be given the time and space to explore their identity, even straight people who miss out on this reflective and affirming process due to our heterosexual norms. We all pay a steep price for our culture’s stringent views of gender and sexuality. Let's stop passing that price on to future generations as well.

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