This has been quite a week for education bills proposed re: future of LGBTQ+I students in the classroom. Fueled by Governor DeSantis, the Republican-led majority advanced a bill on February 7 that will have to continue in two more committees before it reaches the Senate floor and the Governor’s pen. If passed in the Senate, it could be law beginning July 1, 2020.
What’s In The So-called “Don’t Say Gay” Bill?
The bill stipulates that a “school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identification in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate ( what is age-appropriate is also being argued) or developmentally appropriate.”
Governor DeSantis backs the bill because he believes that “they need to teach students science, history, civics so they understand the U.S. Constitution. The larger issue with all of this is parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what’s going on in their schools. I don’t want the schools to kind of be a playground for ideological disputes.”
Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is sponsor of the bill. If it becomes law, Baxley said “discussions about a child’s sexuality or gender identity would fall under auspices of the bill.” The provision is tucked into two “Parental Rights in Education Bills”: Senate Bill 1834 and House Bill 1557 that say that parents should have more rights in deciding what their children are exposed to in the classroom. If the bills were to become law, they would give parents the right to sue school districts that violate their provisions.
President Biden slammed Florida Republicans over this proposal to ban discussions of general identity and sexual orientation in public K-12 schools . O Tuesday, February 8., Biden tweeted that “I want every member of the LGBTQI+I community, especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bills, to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
A White House spokesperson further weighed in on the legislation: “every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQ+I students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”
Over a month ago, Chasten Buttigieg, ex-teacher and husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, criticized the bill saying “you are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in.”
John Harris Maurer, Public Policy Director of Equality Florida, took exception to Baxley’s rationale for sponsoring the bill: “it is patently offensive to say that school discussions even with young children, referring to two moms and two dads, parents like those that are sitting in this room that are your constituents…is somehow dangerous or inappropriate.”
Twenty-four activists, mostly gays, testified how understanding their teachers were when they confided in them about their sexual orientation and how their teachers became their protection, “their lifelines.” As it’s been documented, the LGBTQ+I community is disproportionately harassed and bullied in school.
What adopted or LGBTQ+I child doesn’t dread the grade school classroom assignment about their family trees? How can you not avoid a discussion when the homework is turned in?
The Effects of this Bill
Would it marginalize LGBTQ kids and families and stifle discussions about LGBTQ history? Is it removing teachers as lifelines for LGBTQ+I youths?
Suing: A Big Concern
In our litigious society, you can expect suing, even in education. The bill, if passed, would give parents the right to sue school districts that fail to notify them of critical decisions affecting a students’ mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.” School districts could withhold some information from parents if the disclosure would “result in abuse, abandonment or neglect.” Or, in many cases, a school district would not be able to maintain policies that keep a kid’s sexual or gender identification from parents in many cases.
How much say should a parent have in what a child learns in school? Virginia has had this problem.
Seven states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon have laws that promote LGBTQ issues in school curricula ( Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma do not). I hope Florida will become the eighth.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.