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Last Tuesday, the Florida Senate passed a bill that would prohibit teaching and discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in the state’s primary schools. The legislation, sometimes called the “Don’t say gay bill,” has been derided nationally for seeking to erase LGBTQ children and their families from schools.
Yet, other states, including Georgia, plan to emulate the Florida bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated he will sign into law.
Idaho’s House of Representatives last week approved a bill that would make gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth a crime, punishable with up to life in prison. This follows a recent directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that treated gender-affirming care as child abuse. A state judge, thankfully, has temporarily blocked the implementation of that order, and the Biden administration has provided a strong response.
These malicious moves dehumanize children, their parents and other people who support them.
Because of the harm and reach of the Florida legislation, News Center Maine anchor and reporter Zach Blanchard took the unusual step of broadcasting an on-air editorial condemning the action. The station has aired only two other such editorials in the past decade.
The TV station and Blanchard did so, he said, to counter the misinformation surrounding the Florida bill, which he said would erase families with two mothers or two fathers, along with gay or lesbian teachers and some very influential Americans.
“This law would do nothing more than strengthen our divisions and threaten the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ kids in Florida and across the country,” he said in the message aired on Wednesday evening. “It will hurt kids like me who may not have known what gay was as a third grader in a small town, but knew it meant being different and somehow bad.”
We – and dozens of others who have applauded and shared the video – thank Blanchard for sharing his experience with people across Maine, and the world.
It is often easy to say you support a cause or oppose a law. It is much harder to speak out publicly and to share details of your life, in this case, with potentially millions of people. This is why Blanchard’s words and video are so powerful.
They are a powerful reminder that being LGBTQ isn’t something to be ashamed of or something that can or should be changed.
Maine, as Blanchard noted, has been a leader on LGBTQ rights. It was the first state where voters legalized same-sex marriage and Maine, in 2019, joined 15 other states to prohibit so-called conversion therapy, a harmful and ineffective practice that aims to “convert” gay and lesbian people into straight people.
Yet, the debates in other states reverberate here.
“While you might not think this soon to be Florida law applies here, it does,” Blanchard said. “It sends a message to every young person from York to Caribou who already feels like they do not fit the mold that it’s not OK to live their truth.” That message, he said, could have life-altering negative consequences.
Prohibiting conversations about LGBTQ people doesn’t make them go away, it simply marginalizes them. And, we know that living at the margins is hard – and dangerous.
LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers.
Yet, Blanchard ended with a positive message.
“So, even if your voice trembles, say it,” he said in reference to the “Don’t say gay” Florida bill. “Be yourself and ultimately, love will always win.”
We couldn’t have said it any better.