Opinion: We must protect the right to learn in our schools

Opinion: We must protect the right to learn in our schools

(Carlos Alberto Kunichek/Getty Images)

By Ethan J. Lang

July 2, 2024

Ethan J. Lang, member of Michigan College Democrats, reflects on the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in education amid Republican attacks. 

Sorry Governor DeSantis, but I will say Gay!

In March of 2022, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1557, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill originally barred teaching sexual orientation or gender identity from Kindergarten until 3rd grade. However, in March of 2023, to mark one year since the bill was signed into law, the Florida Board of Education approved a request by Governor Ron DeSantis to extend the law’s provisions from Kindergarten to 12th grade.

As a secondary education major, a school board candidate, and a gay man, bills like these go against everything I believe in. When I begin teaching, I want to be honest with my students about who I am. I want to hang a rainbow flag in my classroom to show my pride, rather than hide it. I want to be able to speak freely, rather than watch what I say.

I often find myself thinking: why do these bills keep getting introduced, and unfortunately, in some states, passed? After thinking long and hard, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is out of fear and ignorance. Members of the GOP are scared of the LGBTQ+ community having any sort of interaction with their children. Some fear that being gay is a disease that the LGBTQ+ community will give to their children. Others fear that the LGBTQ+ community is trying to indoctrinate children so that they will be gay, trans, or queer.

But the truth of the matter is that being gay isn’t a disease. It’s not something that’s taught. And it certainly isn’t a choice. Being gay is something that you are born as, and no one can make that choice. I certainly know that to be true. 

Growing up I knew that if I were gay, I would be loved and supported no matter what, but I was scared. I didn’t want to be gay. So when the 2016 election occurred, and Donald Trump won, I decided to try and push my sexuality down, and support Trump. With that came internalized homophobia. I became a shell of the person that I truly was, or even wanted to be. I tried to project myself as someone who was a far-right, homophobic, pro-life conservative. Hell, I even owned Republican cuff links that I wore to every political event I went to. I knew that if people believed that was who I truly was, then I wouldn’t have to think about being gay. I could live the life that I thought was right.

I, myself, was a scared member of the GOP, not wanting to let my true self see the light of day. But as time went on, and I did more research into the struggle that the LGBTQ+ community had to face to even have the right to marry the people that they love, or even be their true selves and be accepted in society, I started to change my point of view. When the 2020 election rolled around, and President Biden was elected, I started to feel less nervous. By then, I had done my research, accepted who I was, and was ready to let that person be known.

We in the LGBTQ+ community have gone through so much struggle. So many of us deny our true selves from being known. Schools teach us about sexual health, yet don’t teach about problems that same-sex couples could face. So we must learn about them in our own time. As time moves forward, we must continue to let our school’s curriculums evolve to teach about everyone. As a history teacher, I plan on teaching about the Stonewall Riots and about who Harvey Milk was. Why? Because it’s not just LGBTQ+ history, but American history as well. We must protect the right to learn in our schools. Let’s not censor history, let’s teach it.

This is part of the op-ed series from the Michigan College Democrats. To learn more about the series and read other submissions, click here.


  • Ethan J. Lang

    Ethan J. Lang is a proud Democrat and Michigander. Lang is currently running for his local School Board of Education in Grand Blanc, MI. Lang graduated from Grand Blanc High School in 2022, and was proud to be chosen to speak at his graduation ceremony. He is a secondary education major and wants to be a high school civics/history teacher, to help motivate another generation to get involved in politics!

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