In 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida passed the “Paternal Rights in Education” bill also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557). The bill restricts “teachers and school districts from discussing gender identity and topics surrounding sexuality in the classroom.” The law has been in effect for the 2022-23 school year. Although this measure primarily affects Florida’s LGBTQ community and their freedom of speech, many anti-transgender bills similar to this one are being considered across all states.
Even here in the state of Connecticut, there is a bill proposed regarding a student’s “biological gender.”
Connecticut House Bill 6331 proposes that “public school educators are required to recognize each student by the biological gender of the student.” Even though the bill is unlikely to pass, I believe even the proposal of this bill can lead to an unsafe environment and disparities in health, particularly mental health, and it should be called out.
The author of HB 6331, State Rep. Joe Hoxha, (R-Bristol) does not seem to notice the difference between biological (assigned) sex and gender identity. Biological sex is the sex assigned at birth based on the infant’s anatomical and biological characteristics. Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of being; whether that is male, female, or something else.
There is no such terminology as “biological gender.”
Why would Rep. Hoxha use that term rather than the proper term, biological sex? The wording shows that Rep. Hoxha does not understand the issue, nor has he done enough research to know what term to use when drafting the bill. Was Rep. Hoxha aware that biological gender is not the proper term? Why is he drafting legislation on a subject he hasn’t researched?
Schools need to provide a safe and accepting environment for all students, yet many LGBTQ young people experience bullying, harassment, and other discrimination because of their gender identity. A national survey by GLSEN has found that “75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who can persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education.”
If school administrators ignore these students by refusing to acknowledge their gender identity and even penalize them for expressing it, they can put kids at risk.
A survey by The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on suicide prevention among the LGBTQ community, provided some key findings, showing that approximately 45% of LGBTQ youth have had suicidal ideation within the past year, 14% of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide within the past year, and 60% of LGBTQ youth who wanted to receive mental health treatment were not able to receive it in the past year.
Federal and state laws and “the U.S. Constitution prohibits discrimination, bullying, and harassment against students because they’re transgender. This includes Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.”
There are 16 states, including Connecticut, that have laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals. In New Haven Public Schools “a student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity. A court-ordered name or gender change is not required, and the student need not change his or her official records.”
But even though here in Connecticut transgender individuals have protection, there have still been debates about transgenders athletes in the news. Four cisgender women, formerly high school athletes in Connecticut, sued the state for its trans-inclusive policies, saying that, “allowing transgender women to compete in high school girls’ sports put them at an athletic disadvantage.” While they lost their case last year, they have sought to revive it.
We should recognize that we are lucky that Connecticut has strong protections for transgender individuals. While this bill is unlikely to pass, Connecticut residents should greet Rep. Hoxha’s proposal of the bill with a resounding “no.”
To repurpose a phrase from our Southern neighbors, “Don’t Florida my Connecticut!” The anti-LGBTQ policies of Florida do not have a place here in Connecticut.
Megan Gaffney is a rising senior at Sacred Heart University, majoring in Health Sciences with a concentration in Public Health and a minor in Human Clinical Nutrition.