Survey: More Than Half of LGBTQ Florida Parents Are Thinking About Moving

Fears of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law prevent children from discussing their families in class, drive parents away from engaging at their kids' schools

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More than half of Florida families headed by same-sex or gender-nonconforming parents are considering moving out of the state, and 17% have taken steps to do so, a newly released survey finds.

According to the report from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, one of the nation’s leading sources of data on LGBTQ Americans, 15% of parents surveyed say their children worry about talking about their families in school, including drawing pictures or completing writing assignments that depict their parents, and 9% report that their children fear remaining in the state.

Among parents of LGBTQ children, 9% say their kids worry about talking about their identities in school and 13% are afraid of living in Florida. Some told researchers they have stopped engaging in their kids’ school, as they no longer feel safe.

Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, proponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” law passed last March argue that such measures are needed to help parents ensure their young children are not exposed to information about sexual orientation and gender identity they might disapprove of. Early on, backers of the move said the Florida law was mischaracterized by media accounts and opponents who warned it could lead public school teachers and administrators to censor books and in-school conversations.  

However, as schools reopened after COVID shutdowns in fall 2022, officials removed anti-LGBTQ bullying resources from state websites and handed down mandates to remove books not explicitly approved for student use from shelves and to ignore nondiscrimination protections for transgender kids.

A survey of 113 LGBTQ parents conducted between June and September 2022, the Williams Institute report is an early snapshot of the law’s impact. In the first six months after it was passed, nearly 9 in 10 LGBTQ parents said they were concerned about the law’s effect.

Fears were less intense among those whose children are not yet of school age, are nearly done with school or attend a private school that is not bound by the law. Some of these families said they plan to move if the law is not overturned by the time their child is ready for kindergarten, or that their high schooler plans to go to college in a less hostile state. 

“That so many of them are considering moving is, of course, concerning,” said Abbie Goldberg, author of the report and a professor of psychology at Clark University, which co-sponsored the study. “Whether others have the resources is another question.”

Top reasons cited for continuing to live in Florida were to stay close to family and friends (49%), because of work (47%) and because the state is where they grew up (38%), as well as custody arrangements, caregiving obligations for older relatives, the fact that their child will soon graduate from high school and quality-of-life factors unrelated to the political climate. Still, 21% reported that they are less out in their communities. Almost one-fourth said they now fear harassment from neighbors.  

Five of those surveyed — including parents in three households where one of the adults holds dual citizenship — said they were considering leaving the country. “Should [Donald] Trump (again) or DeSantis become president, we have an exit plan to move out of the country,” one told Goldberg.

In response to open-ended questions, a number of those surveyed said their fears had intensified as time passed. One, for example, said initial concerns were allayed by reading the bill, which prohibits teaching LGBTQ topics before fourth grade and requires such content to be “age-appropriate” thereafter. 

“I am okay with and support the idea of not teaching or telling young children [about LGBTQ people or sexuality]. However, I am concerned that the… ‘developmentally appropriate’ part is too vague and could be interpreted too loosely.” 

But as it became clear that the law’s impact went far beyond curtailing early-grades classroom discussions of sexuality, many parents began seeing ripple effects that have had a negative impact on their families.   

Indeed, confusion among educators about what is permissible under the new law and other legislation empowering community members to sue when they believe it has been violated have raised concerns in some parents about interacting with their children’s schools. 

“We didn’t join our son’s [parent teacher organization] and we didn’t offer to coach Little League this spring,” one said. “We are very, very cautious about having playdates,” reported another.

Several mentioned escalating anti-LGBTQ rhetoric as the cause of heightened concerns. “I worried that as a parent volunteer, I may confront conservative parents who perceive me as a groomer,” said one. “I worried that our family could be targeted and reported to child protective services with false assertions about our parenting based merely on our relationship.”

The rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is not the only pressure many of the families surveyed are under, Goldberg added: “Most people’s identities are complicated. Many of these families are people of color, have kids who are LGBTQ, who are feeling the effects of multiple pieces of legislation.”

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