Florida’s House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in the state’s primary schools. The legislation is titled the “Parental Rights in Education” bill but is dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and must pass the state’s Senate and then be signed into law by Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis to become law.

The bill, which Rep. Joe Harding (Republican) introduced  to the House, says discussions about “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.”

Harding said the measure is about “empowering parents” and improving the quality of life for the state’s children. “Creating boundaries at an early age of what is appropriate in our schools, when we are funding our schools, is not hate,” Harding said. “It’s actually providing boundaries, and it’s fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect.” The bill would not prohibit students from talking about their LGBTQ families or bar classroom discussions about LGBTQ history, including events like the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando.

The bill has grabbed the attention of international newspapers, Hollywood actors and the White House. Democrats argued that the legislation’s text makes it unclear what age groups the bill could apply to, and the broad language of the legislation could open districts to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation about LGBTQ people or issues to be inappropriate.

Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of the Trevor Project—an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and intervention group—said in a statement, “When lawmakers treat LGBTQ topics as taboo and brand our community as unfit for the classroom, it only adds to the existing stigma and discrimination, which puts LGBTQ young people at greater risk for bullying, depression and suicide.”A national survey by the Trevor Project… found that 42 percent of LGBTQ youths seriously considered attempting suicide last year. More than half of transgender and nonbinary youths who were surveyed seriously considered suicide, it also found.

On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, told lawmakers in an impassioned speech “I want to make sure that for those LGBTQ youth in Florida and around the country and in the world who are watching, I want to make sure that they know this: You are loved. You are supported. And we will wake up every single day to fight for you, because you are worth fighting for,” Smith said.

In addition to the Parental Rights in Education bill, aka “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, 15 other bills are under consideration in eight states that would limit speech about LGBTQ identities in classrooms, according to PEN American, a nonprofit group that advocates for free speech. Three states passed similar bills last year that allow parents to opt students out of any lesson or coursework that mentions sexual orientation or gender identity.

Huh. Just curious, but when in history has ever NOT talking about something—or someone—led to anything good?

—Shelley Massey


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