Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to limit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools, advancing a measure that has drawn widespread condemnation from LGBTQ activists and the White House.
The House passed the bill on a party-line vote, with most Republicans in support. It now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate.
The proposal, which critics have dubbed the “Don't Say Gay” bill, has attracted scrutiny from President Joe Biden, who called it “hateful,” as well as other Democrats who argue it demonizes LGBTQ people. The debate comes amid a nationwide, often contentious reexamination of how schools should teach about race, gender and history.
“It sends a terrible message to our youth that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, told lawmakers in the House before the measure passed.
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As written, the bill 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.” A parent could sue a district for violations.
Harding has said the bill would not prevent teachers from engaging students in spontaneous discussions, but instead is meant to stop districts from integrating lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity into the curriculum.
“I believe an idea that creating boundaries at an early age at what is appropriate in our schools, when we are funding our schools, is not hate. It's actually providing boundaries and it's fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect,” he 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.
“What is ‘age appropriate?' Is it ‘age appropriate’ for a baby to love their two moms or their two dads? Is it ‘age appropriate’ for a baby to say, ‘I don’t know if I'm like everyone else'"? asked Rep. Michele K. Rayner, a Democrat. “What is ‘classroom instruction'?”
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has stopped short of endorsing the proposal but, when asked about it recently, he replied, "I do think you’ve seen instances in which kids are encouraged to be doing stuff with like a gender ideology and I think the parents really do need to be involved in that.”