In yet another impressive feat of hypocrisy, obtuse rejection of reality, and fear-mongering, a school teacher in Florida has been placed under investigation by Florida’s state Department of Education for showing students a PG-rated Disney movie.
The teacher under investigation, Jenna Barbee, showed 5th grade students in the Hernando County School District the PG-rated Disney movie “Strange World” after administering state standardized testing, participating in the long-standing teacher tradition of giving students a fun respite after exams. Jenna Barbee claims she followed the school administration’s protocol for PG movie approval “from the beginning of the year” by requiring signed permission slips from parents for each child. The system allegedly also ensures the parent’s ability to request specific content not be shown to their children.
School board member Shannon Rodriguez allegedly reported Barbee to Florida’s state Department of Education for “indoctrination” and inappropriate conduct after hearing her child had watched Disney’s “Strange World.”
For those who haven’t seen Disney’s “Strange World,” the film is a PG-rated children’s film about a family of explorers in an unfamiliar land who have to overcome differences to survive.
The point of contention for Shannon Rodriguez seems to simply be human diversity. The film has a biracial, queer character named Ethan who has a teenage crush. That is it. It isn’t made a focal point of the film, it simply is. Queer adults were once queer children, just like straight, cis adults were once straight, cis children. It is as simple as that.
But for Republican legislators in Florida and school board members like Rodriguez, it is not that simple. They claim to protect children from “indoctrination” while indoctrinating children into their own way of perceiving and existing in the world, besides attempting to demolish the existence of entire groups of human beings who are simply existing and daring to be visible in their existence. It is important to note that the only physical intimacy (kissing) shown in “Strange World” is between an adult heterosexual couple. It is ridiculous to attack a school teacher for showing a PG Disney film that simply acknowledges that other human beings exist outside what some push as the norm.
All of this discussion around the existence and visibility of queer people — and, yes, queer children — centers around the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, officially known as HB 1557 or the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed that measure into law in 2022, and this situation is an example of real-world consequences these bills threaten to widely impose. General ideas underlying the bill have since been expanded, including with Republicans’ HB 1069. The initiative presents itself as a protection for parental rights but focuses on the parental rights Republicans decide themselves are right.
As queer activist Matt Bernstein recently said on Instagram: “I need all parents to know that a certain percentage of kids born each year will grow up to be queer. This is not my opinion, it is not politics, it is not ideology. It is an observable fact. Your kid might be one of those kids, and whether or not they are will have nothing to do with the books you read them or the movies their teacher showed them or the time they went to family drag bingo. It will have nothing to do with the state you live in or the way you voted or the times you missed Sunday Mass. Try though you may, nothing you do will change your child’s identity. You can take them to church, you can deny them gender-affirming care, you can monitor their social media accounts. None of this will give you the straight, cis child you’d hoped for.”
Protecting our children means protecting ALL of our children, including LGBTQ+ kids. It means providing a safe, inclusive, age-appropriate environment for all children to be able to learn and socially engage in our public schools free from discrimination and the indoctrination of homophobic, transphobic adults who refuse to acknowledge that queer people exist, that we are simply human beings living our lives just as anyone else does, and that queer adults were once queer children that deserve to be protected and treated with the same dignity and rights as any other child.
Protecting our children from harm, whether in public or private spaces, is an unendingly vital and essential conversation that we as a society have to have — and one that we have time and time again failed at as much as we have also succeeded. Further marginalizing, demonizing, and eradicating LGBTQ+ identities and communities only ensures that we can’t appropriately protect and guide our children and allow them to experience safe, fulfilling childhoods.