Florida lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill — dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — restricting speech in public school classrooms on sexual orientation and gender identity, sparked by one lawmaker’s concern that children were being “trendy” in coming out as gay.
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The legislation — titled “Parental Rights in Education” (HB 1557) — now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has suggested he will sign it into law. If so, it goes into effect July 1.
The 22-17 vote came after weeks of national attention over the measure, which has grabbed the attention of international newspapers, Hollywood actors and the White House.
What has caused the most contention is one section of the bill: It prohibits public school teachers from “instruction” about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten-3rd grade — though it’s already not taught in those grades — and limits it to “age appropriate” in other grades.
The bill, however, doesn’t provide a bright line between “classroom instruction” and “classroom discussion,” which the bill’s supporters say it won’t prevent.
The proposal also prohibits schools from withholding information from parents about a student’s “mental, emotional or physical health.” And parents could sue a school district for violations under the legislation.
Five things to know:Learn more about Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ gender discussions at schools bill.
Critics continue to fear the measure will stigmatize LGBTQ youth and banish discussions of their lives and families from the public school classroom.
Two Senate Republicans voted against it: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Florida, who has spoken against the bill and tried unsuccessfully to amend it, and Jennifer Bradley of Orange Park.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, one of the bill’s Republican sponsor, said it recognizes that parents are in charge of their children’s education and development: “Sometimes, the right answer is, ‘You really ought to talk to your parents about that.’ “.
Democrats continued to condemn the measure as homophobic. Referring to those who identify as LGBTQ, Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, asked, “Why do we have to pick on them, marginalize them, single them out? Why do we want to be part of this systemic discrimination that is going on across the country.”.
More on the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill:Lawmaker behind Florida’s legislation pulls amendment requiring schools to out students.
Measure sparked protests at Capitol by LGBTQ youth
Students protested the measure when it was before both the House and Senate, rallying on the steps of the old Capitol and filling the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers. They said the bill will mark non-straight people as taboo and leave them isolated, without support from teachers, administrators, and their peers.
DeSantis, who has positioned himself as a culture warrior for conservatives amid a 2022 reelection campaign and a possible 2024 presidential bid, has said publicly he didn’t push for the legislation but still has defended it, recently berating a reporter for using the “Don’t Say Gay” nickname.
“Does it say that in the bill?” DeSantis said Monday when asked about it by local affiliate WFLA. “You are pushing false narratives.”.
Democrats as well as Brandes tried to soften the measure through amendments by defining the terms used, outlining a complaint procedure for parents, and to limit school districts monetary liability.
Sen. Loranne Ausley said parents “already have the right and the responsibility to be their child’s first teacher, to be involved in every aspect of our child’s education … And (they) already have the right to object to things that they find concerning about their child’s education.”.
Ausley, an attorney, predicted the measure will open a floodgate of lawsuits by parents seeking monetary damages, “no matter how outrageous their claim may be.”.
On the floor of the Senate Monday, Baxley said he was concerned about what he called the “trendy posture” of some LGBTQ kids — words that Democrats used against him on Tuesday.
“I mean, my son’s a psychiatrist and I said, ‘Why is everybody now all about coming out when you’re at school? … How much of this are genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities and experimenting. That’s what kids do,’ ” he said.
He added: “And all of a sudden, overnight, they’re a celebrity when they felt like they were nobody … I know parents are very concerned about the departure from the core belief systems and value … I think they have a seat at the table.”.
Sen. Tina Polsky then asked, “So just to confirm, there seems to be a big uptick in the number of children who are coming out as gay or experimenting, and therefore we need to not discuss it in the younger grades?”.
Baxley answered he was just “trying to figure out what makes kids tick. And that is part of why I’m attracted to this bill.”.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee.