Florida Senate passes controversial measure for LGBTQ schools

The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a bill banning “classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” in elementary schools across the state. The measure, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents, passed the State House last month and is now headed for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has already voiced his support.

“This is going to put the safety of our LGBTQ students and teens at risk,” Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, said during Tuesday’s debate. “We won’t stop until this state moves forward and truly values ​​everyone, everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.”

The Parental Rights in Education Bill, which passed through both legislatures largely by party, has fueled America’s latest culture war, which has put students in the crosshairs with a combination of book bans, Pride flag removals and bills targeting LGBTQ. youth. The measure even caught the attention of international newspapers, Hollywood actors and the White House.

Supporters of the bill say it is about allowing parents to control their children’s education, while opponents say it unfairly targets the LGBTQ community.

“This bill tells parents that your right to raise your children does not end when they walk into a classroom. This bill recognizes that parents are not the enemy,” Republican Sen. Danny Burgess said ahead of Tuesday’s 22-17 vote. “The bill simply says there should be an age limit on certain discussions, it’s not a new, or radical concept.”

The measure prohibits “classroom teaching by school personnel or third parties about sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits such teaching “in a manner that is not age or developmentally appropriate”, which critics say could be interpreted as extending to all grade levels. Parents can sue school districts for alleged violations.

In a tearful speech to the Senate on Monday, Democrat Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay senator, urged colleagues to narrow the bill’s language to say the instruction should not be “intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I’m asking you to open your heart a little bit,” he said, noting the name-calling and avoidance he’d faced as a gay man. “Please do no harm.”

Jones’ proposed amendment failed.

Last week, students across Florida staged school walkouts to protest the bill, which they decried as the state’s latest move to limit LGBTQ student rights.

“The language and the supporters of the bill and the rhetoric around the bill really shows what this bill is all about, and it’s an attempt to hurt gay people like me,” said high school student Jack Petocz. . Petocz, who organized the statewide protests via social media, told NBC News he was suspended “indefinitely” for handing out 200 Pride flags for the rally after being told not to. do it by the principal.

The bill’s fate now rests with DeSantis, who signaled his support for the measure for at least the second time when questioned by a reporter on Monday.

“We’re going to make sure that parents can send their child to kindergarten without having some of these things injected into their curriculum,” he said.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona condemned the bill in a statement Tuesday. He said parents are looking to national, state and district leaders to support students and help them recover from the pandemic by providing academic and mental health support.

“Instead, Florida leaders are prioritizing hate bills that hurt some of the most needy students,” Cardona said. “The Department of Education has made it clear that all schools receiving federal funding must abide by federal civil rights law, including Title IX protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We support our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to ensure that all of their students are protected and supported.”

If DeSantis signs the bill, it will go into effect July 1.

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Matt Lavietes contributed.

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