PUNTA GORDA, Florida–The Florida Senate voted on March 8 to advance the Parental Rights in Education bill, which limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. The next stop is the governor’s desk.
Although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not said he would sign the bill, he has signaled approval by saying he thinks it will shield elementary-aged students from “inappropriate lessons on sex.” He also accused the news media of creating a “false narrative” about the intended meaning of the legislation.
“We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” the Republican governor said at a Feb. 28 press conference.
National Democrats, LGBTQ advocates and other groups have opposed the measure, saying it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
President Joe Biden called it “hateful.” Students statewide walked out of classes in protest on March 4, and Saturday Night Live turned the subject into a comedy skit, making it the most contentious bill of the 2022 legislative session.
The language in the bill that has stirred the most controversy reads: “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.”
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, sponsor of the bill, said that more children are “experimenting” with their sexual identity, and parents need to be in control of what children learn about sex.
“I think 75 percent of people I see polled on this bill … agree with me that there’s something wrong with how we’re emphasizing this.” Baxley said during debate on the bill.
Opponents contend that the bill “singles out” the LGBTQ community.
“It sends a message that they don’t matter,” Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat when debating the bill in Senate chambers. “They need to be hidden, that it doesn’t need to be talked about, that they need to be shamed.”
Sunshine State Standards, the state’s academic standards public schools must follow, do not include sexual orientation and gender identity as topics for primary grades kindergarten through third grade.
The bill would prohibit lessons on those topics that are not “age-appropriate” and ensure that parents have access to information about their children’s “mental, emotional, physical health or well-being.”
Parents can also sue districts over violations under the legislation, which would go into effect July 1.
Senators voted 22-17 —mostly along party lines—to pass the legislation on to DeSantis. Two Republican senators, Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley voted against the bill.