Mar 22, 2023 - Politics

Florida Republicans target pronouns in schools

Illustration of a collage featuring the Florida State Capitol building and snippets of a bill barring the use of preferred pronouns for students and teachers.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Republican lawmakers want to bar the use of preferred pronouns for students and teachers in Florida schools.

Driving the news: A proposed law that builds off of last year's Parental Rights in Education Act — dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics — cleared a state Senate education committee on Monday.

Why it matters: It's the latest in a string of anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed this legislative session, along with further bans on gender-affirming care and restrictions on drag performances.

Context: School districts across Florida started changing their pronoun policies last year to align with the Parental Rights in Education Act, requiring that students provide parental permission to use a different pronoun at school.

Details: SB 1320, proposed by Sen. Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville, takes it a step further. The bill would ban public school employees from calling students by pronouns that differ from those given to them at birth — even with parental consent.

  • School employees would also be forbidden to "provide to students his or her preferred personal title or pronouns" unless they correspond to sex assigned at birth.

Between the lines: Studies show using gender-affirming language, like preferred pronouns, is associated with reduced depression and suicide risk among transgender youth, according to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

What they're saying: Republican House Speaker Paul Renner, of Palm Harbor, considers gender and sexual identity to be "cultural issues" that distract from coursework.

  • "We have global competition, and frankly global adversaries, and so we need to make sure all of our time, all of our attention is really focused on education excellence and not some left-wing wish list of what kids should learn in school — or right-wing wish list," Renner told reporters last week, per the Miami Herald.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's leading the charge to eliminate talk of gender and sexuality from schools, hasn't said whether he backs the bill.

The other side: Democratic legislators are fighting back, but have lacked the numbers to vote measures like this down in the Senate.

  • Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) spoke out against the bill during its committee hearing on Monday, saying, "We're not protecting children with this bill."
  • "We're sitting here legislating pronouns but we're not legislating on how we're going to get our fourth-grade level students to read by the time they get to the fifth grade," Jones said.

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