Daily Distraction: Read Kristen Arnett on Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' legislation

The Florida-born author penned a moving essay for TIME in the aftermath of the state passing the Parental Rights in Education bill

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Fort Walton Beach High School student Ivan Gutierrez holds a sign protesting the recent Florida legislation that has been called the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Florida has long been central to Kristen Arnett's writing.

In approaching her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, the author said that she knew two things going in: 1) She wanted it to center on the day-to-day lived experience of being queer; and 2) she wanted it to be a book about a place, and Central Florida, specifically.

“And quickly it became, ‘How do I write that so that it’s so embedded in the text that you can’t pull it out?’ which, for me, turned into thinking about central Florida as a sensory experience," Arnett said in a 2019 interview with Alive. "How do things smell when you’re outside? What does it sound like at night when you’re walking around and the cicadas start up? How does the air feel? Because the air in Florida is so dense that it almost feels like it’s physically touching you.”

In a recent essay for TIME, penned in the aftermath of the Florida legislature passing the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill and which limits what schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity, Arnett wrote about her experience growing up silent and afraid in suburban Orlando.

"The few teens I knew who had the label 'gay' attached to them suffered through continuous shame and abuse," Arnett wrote. "Most of them fled after graduating, out of Central Florida to anywhere with an existing LGBTQ+ community."

With the passage of the Parental Rights in Education bill, Arnett writes, Florida remains "trapped in the same cycle of wordlessness, with queer and trans people unable to speak the truth of our lives."

"I think back on the closeted lesbian teenager I used to be, crying and frightened, alone with my silence, and I want tenderness for her," Arnett continued. "I want it for every queer and trans youth. I want it for Florida, my community; my home. To love a place that refuses to love you back is a heavy burden to bear. But this place is mine, which means it is queer too. How could it not be? I have helped make it. Our LGBTQ+ community has shaped it."

Read the entire essay here.