Feb 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Florida Legislature advances "Don't Say Gay" bill after DeSantis backing

Illustration of a word balloon in the colors of the Pride flag with a no symbol drawing over it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

After a thumbs up from Gov. Ron DeSantis, a bill that would ban conversations about gender and sexual identity in Florida elementary schools is moving forward in the Florida Legislature.

State of play: On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee approved SB 1834, the "Parental Rights in Education" bill proposed by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) — labeled by critics the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

  • Before the vote, Baxley said the bill is intended for children age 3 through third grade, and that teachers should respond with, "Ask your mother," when students pose questions about queerness.
  • He said the bill is about keeping the topics out of the curriculum, not out of general classroom conversation. But Sen. Shev Jones (D-West Park) pointed out that the bill itself does not mention curriculum.
  • The bill also enables parents to sue schools for not telling parents about "critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical health or wellbeing" — which Sen. Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) pointed out could be something as simple as a child receiving a vegetarian lunch without a parent's ok.

What they're saying: Several students and teachers spoke out against the bill at Tuesday's hearing. Kaylee Sandell, a Leon County high school sophomore, said barring discussion would make LGBTQ students feel isolated and increase bullying.

  • "Sometimes parents aren't all that loving. …You need to be able to trust your teachers to get a good education," Sandell said.

Andrew Triollo from Brevard County said he dropped out of high school and got his GED at 16 after being "relentlessly discriminated against and harassed" at three different public high schools.

  • "I should get to go to prom," he told the committee. "I should get to go cheer on my friends at football games. ... But I will never get to experience that like you did because I am transgender and it's as simple as that. It's not fair."

The Biden White House released a statement after Tuesday's vote:

  • "The President wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve," spokesperson Kevin Munoz wrote.
  • "The Biden-Harris Administration will continue speaking out against harmful anti-LGBTQI+ bills and taking steps to protect our nation’s students."

The other side: After hosting a roundtable discussion on the border Monday, DeSantis voiced support for Baxley's bill, saying that even though "I don't think it's happening here in large numbers," parents reported to him that discussions have taken place "in areas you would not expect it to happen."

  • DeSantis said it was "entirely inappropriate" for educators to talk to students about gender identity.
  • Baxley told the committee Tuesday: "I truly believe you're not going to see a lot of change. I think this is going to be a relief factor to teachers to know they're not responsible to deal with every issue in life."

What's next: The bill heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The cross-filed House bill is poised for a final vote but it's unclear when that might happen.

  • Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1300, which would give parents control over library books and instructional material in elementary schools, has one committee left before it could head to DeSantis' desk.
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