LGBTQ Advocates Say The Legislation Could Silence Or Shame Queer Youth

The Florida House has approved the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill
(image via Depositphotos)

After weeks of outrage and national headlines, Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill was approved Thursday in the Florida state House by a vote of 69-47. Seven Republican lawmakers broke with their party voting against the measure.

The legislation, officially titled the Parental Rights in Education bill (HB 1557), would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in primary schools. It would also restrict teachers from discussing those subjects “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

A recent Public Opinion Research Lab poll of registered Florida voters found 49% oppose the legislation while 40% expressed support.

Rep. Joe Harding, the Republican who introduced the bill, insists the bill is not about banning students from being able to mention their LGBTQ families or classroom discussion about events like the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in 2016 that left 49 dead and 53 individuals injured.

Harding told NBC News his bill is about “empowering parents” and improving the quality of life for the state’s children.

But LGBTQ advocates say the legislation will silence, shame, or even attempt to pretend LGBTQ people exist.

Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, the first Black lesbian elected to the Florida Legislature, shared from the House floor this week that she’s married to a teacher who has family photographs on her desk. She asked her colleagues if her wife would be allowed to explain who the people in the photos are should a student ask.

“I am normal, I am healthy, I am a part of this world, and I am a part of this chamber,” she told the House. “It’s incredulous I have to be here defending my humanity.”

“I too am America,” she continued. “Just like my colleagues. Just like those who’ve sought to tell me how to feel in this moment. Just like those who claim Black folks cling to victimhood. We aren’t clinging to victimhood — we want you to see us. Because we too are America.”

 

An amendment Rayner-Goolsby filed earlier this week that would have removed the controversial language banning the mention of LGBTQ people in instruction was voted down along party lines.

Even the White House has denounced the bill as President Biden tweeted on February 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.”

The Republican-controlled state Senate will now take up the legislation where it has already cleared the Senate Education Committee. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is rumored to be weighing a White House run in 2024, has already signaled his support for the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

Even so, LGBTQ advocacy groups are still working to let the public know the harm the “Don’t Say Gay” bill could do to queer youth.

“This bill is so extreme that it inspired a rare rebellion within House GOP ranks as seven Republican lawmakers broke with leadership and opposed passage,” read a statement by Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith.

“Those voting NO include a teacher and a child welfare advocate demonstrating that those who work most closely with children and students understand how damaging this legislation truly is,” added Smith. “The Florida Senate should follow their lead and reject this extreme legislation.”

GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis issued this statement:

“With these extreme and harmful bills, a majority of Florida Republican lawmakers are only making life harder for teachers and LGBTQ students by trying to ban conversation about LGBTQ people, Black history, and discrimination across society.

“Bills about ‘parents’ rights’ should recognize LGBTQ people are parents too, or that parents have LGBTQ children, and their voices matter. More young people are LGBTQ than in any previous generation – they and their stories will not be silenced.

“School should be a safe space for everyone to learn about themselves and each other. Florida’s Senate should refuse to codify censorship and set back their state’s future.”

(source: NBC News)

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