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Florida Senate passes a controversial schools bill labeled 'Don't Say Gay' by critics

D. Lockhart

Mar 8, 2022

LGBTQ advocates march at a rally at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., to urge the company to publicly oppose what they call the "Don't Say Gay" that aims to limit instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Florida's Senate passed a bill on Tuesday with a measure aimed at limiting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Parental Rights in Education is the official name of the bill, but critics have dubbed it the "Don't Say Gay" bill, arguing that it would make life at school harder for LGBTQ kids.

What happens next

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled his support for the bill, which also includes measures that would give parents better access to their kids' education and health records.

"Clearly right now, we see a lot of focus on the transgenderism, telling kids that they may be able to pick genders and all that. I don't think parents want that for these young kids," DeSantis said on Friday.

If DeSantis signs the bill into law, school teachers and staff would be prohibited from having classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity with students. It would also give parents an option to sue a school district if the policy is violated.

Safety concerns raised for LGBTQ youth

Studies have shown that LGBTQ youth already face higher health and suicide risks than their cisgender or straight peers. But when given access to spaces that affirm their gender identity, the group reports lower rates of suicide attempts, according to The Trevor Project.

Supporters of the bill, including Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, have said that their focus is on classroom instruction, and that the bill does not actually prevent the word "gay" from being said in schools.

"Here you've got a bill that doesn't use the term gay that the media has taken and advertises as a 'Don't say gay bill,' and there's nothing about that in the bill except extrapolating a mission that they're on," Baxley said.

Florida Democrats voiced their opposition to the bill during debate on Tuesday.

"This is going to endanger the safety of our LGBTQ students and adolescents," State Sen. Annette Taddeo said. "We will not stop until this state moves forward and actually values everyone in it, everyone no matter their sexual orientation."

Critics say the bill is too vague

Democrats also said the bill's parameters are too undefined and are the cause of "horrendous" interpretations, pointing at a tweet from Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, who called it an "anti-grooming bill" over the weekend.

"She called it a grooming bill, meaning that gay people or teachers talking about gayness are pedophiles and are grooming children for molestation," Democratic State Sen. Tina Polsky said. "It's horrendous the way this bill has been interpreted, and that's because it's not defined."

Student LGBTQ activists protested outside the state Capitol on Monday, and other protests have occurred throughout the state, including outside Walt Disney World. Employees of the entertainment company have made public statements urging the Disney executives to publicly oppose the bill.

NPR's Greg Allen contributed to this report.

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