Florida state lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, sending the controversial bill to the desk of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who has signaled his support for measure.
Florida’s GOP-controlled Senate passed HB 1557, entitled Parents’ Rights in Education, with 22 votes to 17. The state House had passed the bill late last month.
Conservatives argued that the bill is necessary in order to give parents more oversight over what students learn and discuss at school, emphasizing that it is up to families to discuss LGBTQ issues in school.
Opponents, however, have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, arguing that the ban it creates would have a negative impact on an already marginalized community. They have pointed to data showing that LGBTQ youth report lower rates of attempted suicide when they have access to LGBTQ-affirming spaces.
Opponents of the bill have also denounced a piece of legislation that allows parents to file civil lawsuits against the school district for any possible violation of its rules, arguing that this would open the door for educators to face a Endless barrage of litigation. The legislation has drawn scrutiny from Democrats in the state and elsewhere, including from President Joe Biden, who vowed last month to protect LGBTQ youth from such measures.
If the bill is approved by DeSantis, a staunch conservative who has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ measures in the state, the bill would take effect in July. His office declined Citizen Free Press’s request for comment on the Senate’s passage Tuesday, instead pointing to comments he made last week on the legislation.
“Providing protections for parents, for preschoolers, for kindergarteners, for first graders, I mean that’s something, I think, that most parents would appreciate,” DeSantis told reporters. “And we send kids to school, little kids, and we want them to learn the basics. Some of these topics that are just not age appropriate, I think parents want to have protection for that.”
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The bill aims to limit the topics in the classroom
The bill states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or others about sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur from kindergarten through third grade, or in a manner that does not is appropriate for the age or development of students according to state standards.
In addition, the measure would require districts to “adopt procedures to notify a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or supervision related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” something that LGBTQ advocates argue that it could lead to some students’ parents learning about their sexual orientation or identity without the student’s knowledge or consent. Advocates also fear the bill will restrict students’ ability to speak confidentially with school counselors, some of whom are the only available mental health resource for students.
More than a dozen attempts by members of the Florida Senate to amend the bill failed Monday, despite emotional pleas from some Democrats, including Sen. Shevrin Jones, who brought some senators to tears by speaking of his experience as a gay man from Florida. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican, offered an amendment that would have expanded the legislation to ban all instruction on any sexual subject in an attempt to allay concerns from LGBTQ advocates that the bill stigmatizes members of the community, but it failed.
Brandes, along with another Republican state senator, joined Democrats in voting against the measure on Tuesday.
There will be protests everywhere
During Monday’s debate, the Senate bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley, said he was concerned that children were “experimenting” with sexual orientation and that was part of his motivation for the legislation. The bill’s co-sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives, Republican state Rep. Joe Harding, previously told Citizen Free Press that the bill is intended to discourage school personnel from asking about a student’s gender identity or pronouns without including their parents in conversation.
Harding had said he had heard a few cases of parents complaining that school staff were discussing gender identity with their children without their involvement, although he did not go into detail about where such cases occurred.
After “Saturday Night Live” mocked the bill, Christina Pushaw, the governor’s spokeswoman, posted on Twitter that anyone who opposes the bill is “probably a groomer,” essentially calling them sexual predators. those who have raised concerns about the bill. Her comments hark back to discredited arguments used by anti-gay activists in recent history to disparage and marginalize members of the LGBTQ community.
Opponents of the measure have pointed to research by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that works on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth. The group said in a statement last month that “LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity, including schools, reported lower rates of attempted suicide than those who did not.”
Florida students are some of the bill’s strongest opponents, with demonstrations at various high schools across the state in recent days protesting the bill.
“We wanted to show our government that this is not going to stop. There were demonstrations all of last week. This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere,” Will Larkins, a freshman who helped organize a walkout at Winter Park High School in Orange County this Monday.