Florida’s House of Representatives on Feb. 24 approved a proposal related to parental rights in education, which, among various measures, would ban discussions in classrooms about “sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”
The Republican-backed measure, HB 1557 (pdf), passed with a 69–47 vote, with mostly Republican support. It now moves to the state Senate for consideration. A companion bill also must be approved by the state Senate—SB 1834 (pdf)—before the legislation goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
If approved and signed into law, it will take effect in July, ahead of the 2022–2023 school year.
While the proposed legislation has several provisions, one that has been condemned by left-leaning entities and public figures has been the measure’s ban on discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain contexts.
The Florida bill states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
“Little children do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. They don’t have that ability to understand things at a certain level,” Republican state Rep. Tom Fabricio said during debate ahead of the House vote.
However, state Rep. Mike Grieco, a Democrat, said the bill is an attack on LGBTQ people. He called it “an anti-gay bill” and told fellow lawmakers that a vote for the bill means they can “never ever claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ community” because they are “voting to be an opponent.”
The House and Senate bills have been informally referred to by some media outlets as the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which House Republicans say is an inaccurate term.
“A lot has been written and said about HB 1557, and most of it is wrong. Here is a fact check on the inaccurate tag line ‘Don’t Say Gay,'” Florida House Republicans said in a post on Twitter.
“Fiction: The bill bans the word ‘gay’ in classrooms. Fact: Absolutely false; this bill bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through 3rd grade and requires age and developmentally appropriate instruction in accordance with state standards for other grades,” the fact check reads.
The White House and President Joe Biden in early February issued statements on Twitter criticizing the bill, calling it “hateful.”
“Today, conservative politicians in Florida advanced legislation designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids. Instead of making growing up harder for young people, [POTUS] is focused on keeping schools open and supporting students’ mental health,” the White House said on Feb. 8.
“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 said on Twitter on the same day. “I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Joe Harding, a Republican, told the Tampa Bay Times on Feb. 18, “I want folks that oppose the bill to be really clear on what they’re actually opposing. I want them to go on record to say it’s OK for a 6-year-old to have one identity in school and one at home because the school encourages that kind of behavior.”
Harding told Fox News prior to the House vote that the bill doesn’t target LGBTQ people.
Besides barring discussions on gender and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade, the bill also “creates a course of action for the parent who is dealing with a school district that has decided [it is] going to become the parent,” Harding said.
The latter point is elaborated by another provision in the bill, which states that school districts “may not adopt procedures or student support forms” that block school district staff from “notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
In addition, school district staff “may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
Harding noted that 13 school districts in Florida currently promote curricula that dissuade teachers from sharing with the parents of students matters related to sexual orientation or changing gender identity, and instead defer such matters to the school district.
“That’s just wrong,” he said.
If enacted, the bill would also allow parents to sue school districts in violation.
Reuters contributed to this report.