Respect Equality

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill heads to DeSantis’s desk

Story at a glance

  • Florida senators on Tuesday passed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, sending it to the governor’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law.
  • Under the bill, primary school teachers in Florida would be prohibited from engaging in instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Senators in favor of the bill argued that the legislation only aims to protect children and strengthen parental rights. Opponents called it hateful and dangerous to the state’s young LGBTQ+ community.

Florida’s Senate on Tuesday passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would restrict the ability of primary school teachers to speak to their students about gender identity or sexual orientation, sending the measure to the governor, who has indicated he supports it.

The bill, officially titled the Parental Rights in Education billwas passed Tuesday by a 22-17 vote following two days of combative debate. The legislation, which was passed by the state House of Representatives late last month, now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, where it is expected to be signed into law.

Should that happen, educators of kindergarten through third grade in Florida would be barred from addressing gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom beginning this summer, and teachers of all grade levels would be prohibited from engaging in instruction that is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

Parents under the bill would also be given greater authority to sue school districts believed to be in violation of the law, which requires school personnel to encourage young students to discuss certain LGBTQ+ matters with their parents or guardians, should those topics come up within school walls.


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The bill has caught the attention of international media, students, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, Hollywood actors and even the White House, which condemned it as hateful and dangerous. Many worry that the bill will harm LGBTQ+ youth, who already face greater rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

Legislators in favor of the bill have argued that its sole intent has always been to give parents a larger role in their child’s education and to protect young students from “mature” content.

“I’m trying to strengthen parents’ role in this relationship,” state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R) said during the bill’s second reading on Monday, “and it’s time to give them some strength.”

Baxley, who is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, on Monday also unable to define either gender identity or sexual orientation — terms featured prominently in the bill — and incorrectly described sexual orientation as “male and female.”

He also suggested that schools may be guilty of “social engineering.”

On Tuesday, state Sen. Ileana Garcia (R) said: “Gay is not a permanent thing. LGBT is not a permanent thing.” She followed that with a story about a personal friend who is transgender, who she repeatedly misgendered.

“What are we doing here? What are we trying to fix?” state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D) asked Tuesday. “How does this bill help LGBTQ+ youth feel safe and supported?”

“Despite the premise of the bill, I can tell you with absolute 100 percent certainty, Florida’s educators are not indoctrinating young children with age inappropriate or developmentally inappropriate curriculum.”

State Sen. Lauren Book (D), a former kindergarten teacher, said, “They’re not secretly pushing the ‘gay agenda,’ the ‘trans agenda,’ the ‘woke agenda’ — it’s just not happening,” she said. “And they’re certainly not sidestepping Florida law in some secret state-allowed grooming or abuse of children.”

Over the weekend, DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw likened opponents to the bill to pedophiles and said educating children about sex leaves them vulnerable to abuse.

During the bill’s second reading on Monday, a slew of last-minute amendments filed by mostly Democratic state Senators — including one by state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D), the body’s first openly gay member — were hotly debated, but all ultimately failed, meaning the bill will head to DeSantis’s desk as it entered the chamber.

Jones during Monday’s three-hour debate broke down in tears while defending his amendment, which would have altered the bill’s language to ban classroom instruction intended to “change a students’ sexual orientation and gender identity,” asking his fellow senators: “Open up your hearts just a tad bit, don’t think about whether or not you could get reelected.”

Another failed amendment would have replaced a requirement for educators to teach students the benefits of monogamous “heterosexual marriage” in sex education with simply “marriage.”

“Well, that settles that,” state Sen. Gary Farmer (D), who sponsored the amendment, said as the amendment failed. “We’ve got an admission as to what this bill is all about. Taking this language out guts the bill, so we don’t have to engage in any fantasy about what the true intention in this bill is anymore.”

Should it be signed by DeSantis, constitutional experts told Changing America that the legislation will almost certainly be challenged on First Amendment grounds as soon as the governor puts pen to paper.


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