Updated Jan 27, 2022 - Axios Tampa Bay

"Don't say gay" bill advances

Illustration of a bookshelf with rainbow-colored books wrapped in "do not enter" yellow tape.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Florida lawmakers are looking to tighten parents' grip on classroom discussion and materials — especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ topics.

State of play: Bills proposed by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) and Senate Education Chairman Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) could act as bans on LGBTQ+ discussions and materials.

  • Gruters' law, Senate Bill 1300, would give parents control over library books and instructional material in elementary schools. Hearing discussion of the bill Tuesday focused on books parents claim are "causing gender confusion."
  • Baxley's, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill (SB1834), would limit classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity while encouraging parents to sue schools or teachers that engage in these topics.

Why it matters: Democrats are calling the bills measures of extreme censorship that could affect students' wellbeing.

  • A poll released this month by The Trevor Project shows 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth, as well as two-thirds of all LGBTQ+ youth, say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

What they're saying: Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami Gardens) asserted during Tuesday's hearing for SB 1300 that no book made him gay.

  • "I don't care what you may try to do to think that you are protecting (children)," Jones said. "The one thing you are obligated to do, like my father and mother did, is to love them for who they are."
  • "This will kill kids," tweeted LGBTQ rights advocate Chasten Buttigieg.

The other side: Gruters said his bill is about transparency, not censorship.

  • "It's about giving people the opportunity to understand exactly what is being offered to their students, in terms of instructional materials," he said at the hearing.

The big picture: Equality Florida spokesperson Brandon Wolf tells Axios the bills aren't separate attacks — they're calculated.

  • "They're part of a larger agenda to turn schools and healthcare into political battlegrounds to help further Gov. DeSantis' political ambitions."
  • "These bills have real human consequences."

What's next: SB 1300 was approved by the education committee in a 6-3 vote along party lines, while the House Education & Employment Committee has handed a version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill off to the Judiciary Committee.

  • Equality Florida plans to host a town hall roundtable with Buttigieg and will be lobbying against them next week in Tallahassee.
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