ST. JOHNS, Fla. – A new policy in St. Johns County Schools requires employees to notify a student’s parents if that student wants to change their pronouns.
The district said the move is meant to bring its protocol more in line with state law, but LGBTQ+ rights advocates say the new policy could do more harm than good. Specifically, the district said this policy shift is in response to the Parents Bill of Rights, which was signed into law last year.
But it comes as the measure that’s colloquially referred to as the “don’t say gay” bill is being debated in Tallahassee -- and just weeks after Clay County Schools faced a lawsuit on this issue.
Under the new St. Johns County School District guidelines for LGBTQ+ students, there are two columns — one that shows what’s in Florida law, while the other outlines the district’s best practices.
Under the section labeled “names and pronouns” it states that there are no federal or state laws that require district employees call a student “by a requested name or use the pronouns consistent with their gender identity.”
The best practices column, though, says: “Schools will use the name and gender pronoun corresponding to his/her consistently asserted gender identity upon request of the student with knowledge of the parent.”
And it’s those last five words that concern Dan Merkan, with the Jacksonville area Sexual Minority Youth Network.
“Because it makes this assumption that somehow someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is something that is a moral issue, which really makes no sense, me being a man has nothing to do with being moral, or if somebody else is transgender, that’s not a moral or religious issue,” Merkan said.
Advocates say that while one household might be completely supportive of the child’s identity, another student’s family might call it a mental health problem, and it’s that second group of students that Cindy Hill-Nobles, with the local chapter of PFLAG, says would have the greatest need for school-based support.
“It’s going to be a dangerous bill for kids. It’s going to be a dangerous change in policy. Kids need a safe space, they need safe people to talk to you when/if they’re not ready to have those conversations at home. They’re choosing someone at school where you’re supposed to be safe to have those conversations with,” Hill-Nobles said.
Hill-Nobles said the effects could be damaging to the most vulnerable young people.
“LGBT kids already have a four times higher suicide attempt rate than their heterosexual counterparts. I think it’s going to push kids further into the closet, And I think it’s going to make those suicides statistics worse, not better,” Hill-Nobles said.