Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature on Tuesday passed a bill banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, dismissing a wave of criticism from Democrats that it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
The proposal, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is now passing through the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it.
Since its inception, the measure has drawn strong opposition from LGBTQ advocates, students, national Democrats, the White House and the entertainment industry.
The proposal came amid heightened focus on Florida as Republicans push for culture war legislation and DeSantis rises in the GOP as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
“This bill, since its introduction, has been used as a vehicle to marginalize and attack LGTBQ people,” said Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a gay Democrat.
He said it “sends a terrible message to our young people that there is something wrong with LGBTQ people, that there is something so dangerous or inappropriate in us that we need to be banned and censored. of the classroom”.
Restrictions on LGBTQ topics in schools
The bill states: “In-class instruction by school personnel or third parties about sexual orientation or gender identity may not take place in kindergarten through grade 3 or in any manner that is not appropriate for the age or development of the students in accordance with state standards.”
Parents could sue districts for violation.
Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the measure, and other GOP lawmakers in Florida have argued that parents should raise these topics with their children, rather than educators. It would not prevent spontaneous discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, but rather aims to prevent districts from integrating the subjects into the official curriculum, Harding and his supporters said.
“I know how important it is to empower parents in this relationship. I want to encourage parents across Florida to take ownership,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who pushed the bill to the Senate. “They’re your kids, and it’s hard — it’s hard to figure out what the influences will be on them and what kinds of decisions they’ll make and how it all comes out.”
Bill triggers protests
Democrats have often said that the bill’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age-appropriate,” could be interpreted broadly enough that discussion at any level could trigger from being sued by parents and thus creating a classroom atmosphere where teachers would avoid subjects.
Across the state, the bill sparked a wave of student protests and walkouts. Dozens of students and lawyers flooded committee rooms during the early stages of the proposal, then crowded the halls of the legislature as it made its way to final passage, often with chants of “We say gay!”
“We have failed as a legislature if hundreds of children are crying out for their rights and you cannot explain to fifth, sixth and eighth graders simple definitions of your bill. You have failed “said Senator Jason Pizzo, a Democrat.
Early in the bill, Harding tabled an amendment that would have effectively required a school to notify parents if a student comes out as LGBTQ to a teacher, renewing widespread condemnation of the measure. Harding withdrew the amendment as it attracted attention in the media and online.
“Nothing in the amendment was about getting a student out. Rather than fighting misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the main bill that allows parents to get involved in their children’s lives,” Harding said in a statement.
DeSantis chafed at calling the proposal the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because he said it would apply to the instruction on any gender identity or sexual orientation. He said it was inappropriate for teachers to discuss these issues with children in kindergarten through third grade.
“We’re going to make sure that parents can send their child to kindergarten without having some of these things injected into their curriculum,” the governor said Monday.
The White House, which has frequently sparred with DeSantis over a wide range of policies, had previously criticized the measure and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, called it “odious”.
On Tuesday, shortly after the Statehouse passed the measure, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona released a statement that “Florida leaders are prioritizing hateful bills that harm some of the neediest students.
“The Department of Education has made it clear that all schools receiving federal funding must abide by federal civil rights law, including Title IX protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “, Cardona wrote. “We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to ensure that all of their students are protected and supported.”