Florida Republicans have introduced a bill that aims to ban the discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools that activists say endangers children and mirrors a prior wave of laws that sought to suppress LGBTQ conversations in the classroom.
Activists have dubbed the measure moving through Florida’s GOP-controlled Statehouse as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
If passed, the measure would “effectively silence students from speaking about their LGBTQ family members, friends, neighbors and icons,” said Kara Gross of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
As written, the bill states that school districts “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” A parent could sue a district for violations.
In a committee hearing, Democrats questioned the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding over whether kids would be able to talk freely about LGBTQ people or history.
“Harding repeatedly said his bill is meant to give parents more control over what their children learn,” according to the LA Times. “He maintained that it would not silence spontaneous discussions but instead stop a district from integrating such topics into the curriculum. He added that schools could still have lessons on Pride Month and events such as the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in which a gunman killed 49 people in Orlando.”
“This doesn’t preclude discussion and conversation that’s going to happen. We’re talking about a school district initiating something through a standard procedure or policy that they’re doing,” he said.
“Critics said Harding’s statements contradicted the broad text of his bill, particularly in terms of having lessons on LGBTQ history, which they argued would be barred from the curriculum. They also said the proposal does not specify what grades would be affected. Harding said it would apply to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.”
“There’s a lack of clarity clearly on what this bill is seeking to do. But what we do know is that LGBTQ people are a normal, healthy part of our society,” Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director of Equality Florida, told lawmakers at the hearing. “We’re parents, students and teachers. We are your brothers and your sisters. Conversations about us aren’t something dangerous that should be banned.”
The bill passed the GOP-controlled committee and now heads to another committee.
After the hearing, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, posted a video to social media blasting the proposal.
“We should and we are encouraging these types of conversations in our schools,” he said.
Large majorities of LGBTQ kids in Florida reported hearing homophobic remarks in school in a 2019 survey, and 69% reported being verbally harassed based on sexual orientation.