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Education

'Don't Say Gay' bill would limit discussion of sexuality and gender in Florida schools

Supporters gather for a Safe Schools South Florida & Friends rally to push back against the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill (HB 1557/SB 1834) at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors, Fla., on Feb. 2.
Mike Stocker
/
Sun Sentinel/TNS/ABACA via Reuters
Supporters gather for a Safe Schools South Florida & Friends rally to push back against the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill (HB 1557/SB 1834) at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors, Fla., on Feb. 2.

Proposed legislation in Florida would restrict how teachers can discuss sexuality and gender in the classroom, the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to remove the teaching of LGBTQ issues from schools.

Supporters say the measure empowers parents who deserve to have a say in what their children learn, but critics — who've dubbed the proposal the "Don't Say Gay" bill — argue that it will strip protections from LGBTQ kids and have a chilling effect on educators.

Versions of the so-called Parental Rights in Education bill passed a Florida House committee in January and cleared a Senate committee this week.

What's in the bill

Under the House bill, a Florida school district "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." The bill doesn't specify how "age-appropriate" and "developmentally appropriate" would be defined.

The bills would also give parents the ability to sue schools if they believed the schools violated any provisions of the law.

Florida governor signals support

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled his support for the measure during an event on Monday but didn't say whether he'd sign the bill if it reached his desk.

"We've seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, 'Oh, don't worry, don't pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff.' They won't tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate," DeSantis said.

"The larger issue with all of this is parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what's going on in their schools," he added.

Critics say the bill is dangerous to LGBTQ kids

But LGBTQ advocates have slammed the measure, and President Biden weighed in this week, panning the proposal and reiterating that his administration would work toward greater protections for LGBTQ people.

"I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are," Biden tweeted on Tuesday. "I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

The group Equality Florida, which advocates for ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said the bill is "dangerous" and accused lawmakers of targeting LGBTQ young people.

"This legislation is meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom," the group said in a statement. "The existence of LGBTQ students and parents is not a taboo topic that has to be regulated by the Florida Legislature."


A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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