Metro Weekly

Florida Senate passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

So-called "parental rights" measure heads to desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is all but certain to sign it into law.

The Florida Senate passed a controversial measure that limits discussions around LGBTQ identity, sending it to the desk of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is all but certain to sign it into law.

The measure, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, purports to strengthen parents’ rights by having them notified if there’s a change in a child’s mental, emotional, or physical health, or any school-based services they may be receiving. Parents who are kept out of the loop can sue for damages.

The bill also explicitly bans curriculum lessons that teach about the LGBTQ community and prevents teachers from encouraging discussions of LGBTQ identity or LGBTQ-related topics from pre-kindergarten to third grade. After fourth grade, any lessons or discussions must be “age-appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate.”

Although the bill does not require notification, individual schools, in enforcing its provisions, may require parents to be warned before any such lessons are broached in the classroom to give them the option of “opting out” of such instruction.

Supporters of the bill say it’s intended to prevent children from learning about complicated and controversial issues like sexuality and gender identity before they’re old enough to understand such concepts.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston) says it will not ban student-led comments or conversations about LGBTQ families or the existence of LGBTQ individuals, but simply prevents such topics from being incorporated into the official curriculum.

“I’m not doing this because I hate anybody. I’m not trying to demonize anybody,” Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Belleview), the Senate sponsor of the bill, said during debate on the floor. “I’m just trying to come back to center point. Parents must be in charge.”

Supporters also contend that some schools have, in the past, failed to notify parents when their children come out as LGBTQ or when potentially controversial topics have been raised in class, leading to accusations that teachers are trying to “indoctrinate” children.

“You’re going to have parents who say you’re trying to retrain my kids to think differently from our value system works. And so somebody has to be in charge. And I’m just shoring up the fact that the parent is in charge,” Baxley said, according to Orlando-based NBC affiliate WESH.

But opponents say that, despite the bill’s intent or language, in practice, teachers and administrators — even at the secondary levels — will preemptively ban any mention of LGBTQ issues for fear of being sued by litigious parents, sending an implicit message to LGBTQ youth that there is something wrong with them.

Other opponents say the bill is a way for Republicans to pander to socially conservative voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections this November — and for DeSantis to shore up his bona fides among socially conservative Republican primary voters for a future White House run — by demonizing LGBTQ youth.

They point to a controversial House amendment, which was scrapped prior to the final vote following a public backlash, which would have required teachers, counselors, and administrators to “out” students to their parents within six weeks of any disclosure by the student regarding their identity, as evidence that the bill is motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus.

“In your effort to elect Ron DeSantis and send him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I just ask you: Is it worth it? Is it worth it if one child is affected by this piece of legislation, what you’re doing today, I ask you: Is it worth it? Is it worth a child being outed or bullied or potentially becoming suicidal?” Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) said during debate.

Critics also note that Gov. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, called opponents of the bill “groomers,” employing a decades-old, well-worn trope that casts LGBTQ people as pedophiles who need to allegedly “recruit” children to grow their numbers. It’s further evidence that the bill’s intent is to vilify, and erase the existence of, LGBTQ individuals.

DeSantis, who has previously defended the need for the bill, has said he will sign it into law. Once he does, the bill’s provisions will take effect on July 1, 2022.

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