TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida House Republicans on Tuesday advanced a bill to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
The measure, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is now set for a final vote in the House on Thursday after GOP lawmakers refused a series of Democratic amendments Tuesday.
The proposal has drawn intense national scrutiny and has served as the one of the latest battlegrounds between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is widely considered to be a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
DeSantis has stopped short of endorsing the legislation but earlier this month said it is inappropriate for teachers to discuss students’ gender identities without parental involvement. After the governor’s comments, Biden called the proposal “ hateful ” and the White House released a statement saying the measure targets LGBTQ students.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Harding, states that “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 maintained that the bill would not prevent spontaneous discussions about the topics and said the legislation is meant to stop a district from integrating them into curriculum. Critics have said the language of the bill is broad enough to apply to any grade and could open districts to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation to be inappropriate.
On Tuesday, during a debate on how a teacher should handle a question about a student with two mothers, Harding rejected those concerns, saying “The idea that somehow within this bill we are preventing a teacher from having discussions with their students is just incorrect."
“Discussions about the different types of families, maybe an instruction relating to different types of families understanding that gender and sexual orientation relating to those students and getting deep into that part is exactly what we’re talking about," he said. “Nowhere in here are we eliminating a discussion about the different types of families. I think that’s probably the biggest misquote on what the bill actually does.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, told lawmakers that the bill was deeply personal and said it singles out LGBTQ people as taboo.
"What topics specifically about people like myself, LGBTQ Floridians, are not appropriate to teach in the classroom? Is it topics about how LGBTQ people love one another? Is it topics about our marriages, which are legal in the United States and Florida, is it conversations about our families, or is it conversations about sexual activity?" he asked.
Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, slammed the proposed bill.
"It’s got to be a terrifying time to be an LGBTQ young person in this country to have your existence legislated by people who don’t look like you or live like you. But I think it’s important for us to tell those young people that they’re not alone in this," Wolf told NBC News. "I really hope that in all of this coverage that LGBTQ young people see that they have allies and accomplices in the fight, that there are people who are going to work to defend them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I think it’s most important that they know that they are valued and loved exactly as they are."