A Florida bill to limit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools neared final passage in the statehouse Monday, as Republicans prepared to advance the measure over critics who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
The proposal, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is expected to pass the GOP-controlled legislature this week.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Harding, 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.” Parents would be able to sue districts over violations.
Since it was introduced, the proposal has drawn widespread criticism from LGBTQ advocates and the White House, with President Joe Biden calling it “hateful." Protestors, often including dozens of students, have flooded the statehouse to oppose the measure as it neared passage.
Republicans have argued that it would not stop teachers from engaging in spontaneous discussions but is meant to prevent districts from integrating lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity into the curriculum.
"It’s actually providing boundaries and it’s fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect,” Harding has said.
Democrats have said the language of the bill, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age appropriate,” could be interpreted as broad enough to apply to any grade and could open districts to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation to be inappropriate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, last week called the bill “justifiable,” saying, “I think it’s inappropriate to be injecting those matters, like a transgenderism, into a kindergarten classroom.”
The governor's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, last week faced calls to resign over tweeting that the bill would be more accurately described as an “Anti-Grooming Bill,” writing “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”
Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democrat who is gay and has been one of the most vocal critics of the bill, tweeted that Pushaw should step down over her comments.
“#DeSantis’ spokesperson openly accused opponents of #DontSayGay of being ‘groomers’— aka PEDOPHILES,” he wrote. “Bigoted attacks like this against LGBTQ people are the worst of the worst. They’re disgusting and dangerous and have NO PLACE in the Guv’s office.”