Florida lawmakers pass bill to ban LGBTQ talk in schools for grades K-3

A bill that bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity is now headed to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis desk. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/de23e0d3d5b919a90c3a5c4e6fe1073c/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A bill that bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity is now headed to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis desk. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

March 8 (UPI) -- Florida senators passed a bill Tuesday that bans LGBTQ classroom discussion in grades K-3, which now heads to the governor's desk for signing.

The House Bill 1557, officially named "Parental Rights in Education," but dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay," bill, passed by a 22-17 vote, along party lines, with the Republican majority voting in favor of it, except for two Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley, and all Democratic senators voting against it.


DeSantis has defended the bill against critics. It will go into effect July 1, if he signs it.

"When you actually look at the bill, and its says 'no sexual instruction to kids pre-K-3,' how many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?" DeSantis told reporters at a press conference in Jacksonville on Friday. "It's basically saying for younger students, do you really want them being taught about sex? And this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that."


The bill states it would require "prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity." It would also require "prohibiting school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being."

It would allow parents to sue school districts to award damages for violations.

Opponents argue it interferes with the rights of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, to speak out about who they are, and potentially harms them by outing them as LGBTQ to parents under the notification provision.

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Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, an openly gay state senator, cried on the Senate floor Monday while recalling his journey to come out to his family.

"I don't think y'all understand how much courage it takes for these children to show up every day," Jones said.

During debate in the Senate chamber Monday, dozens of students from across the state could be heard chanting in protest, "We say gay!"

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"In your effort to elect Ron DeSantis and send him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I just ask you: Is it worth it?," Democratic Florida Sen. Randolph Bracy told "Is it worth it if one child is affected by this piece of legislation, what you're doing today, I ask you: Is it worth it? It it worth a child being outed or bullied or potentially becoming suicidal?"


Samantha Stockley, an Orlando bartender who's worked for three years as a peer counselor for Trans Lifeline, which offers peer support for transgender people in crisis, similarly told the Tampa Bay Times she was concerned about the information-sharing provision.

"I'm happy that parents want to be in the discussion with LGBTQ kids, but I also want to ensure that it's done in a safe manner that's not going to harm these kids," Stockley said.

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Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, told senators Monday that the the bill's notification provision would only kick in if they have a concern about the student's safety because they might be suicidal, and it wouldn't require a counselor to contact a parent otherwise.

Still, LGBTQ advocates and allies say the bill is the latest attack on LGBTQ and racial justice issues from Republican-dominated legislative chambers in Florida and some other states.

For instance, in Texas, students are pushing back against public school book bans that focus on discussions of race, sexual orientation and gender identity.

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When a vote was held earlier this year to ban critical race theory, developed by legal scholars to address systemic racism and the law, in Mississippi, every Black senator walked off the chamber floor in protest.


Critics say such bans censor discussion and accurate teaching of the history of racism.

Last year, DeSantis signed a transgender athlete ban, and more recently criticized teaching children critical race theory at a Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, while praising Florida for its "freedom" due to its lack of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions.

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Rep. Carlos Smith, Florida's first LGBTQ Latino legislator, referenced the comment about the state's "freedom," in his criticism on Twitter of the Senate's passage of the bill.

"We stand in solidarity with LGBTQ Floridians and others whose freedoms are under attack in this so-called 'free state,'" Smith tweeted.

Last month, Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered parents of transgender children investigated for child abuse after they received gender-affirming care, which leading health organizations in Texas say is the best way to provide care to them.

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