The Florida House of Representatives passed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill Thursday that would limit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identify in some classrooms.
The Republican-controlled chamber passed the legislation, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, with a 69-47 vote amid outrage nationwide. Seven GOP members voted against the legislation. It will move to the Florida Senate, also in Republican control, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signaled his support.
Equality Florida condemned the bill’s passage on Thursday, saying it was done “despite overwhelming public outrage” and claiming the move would turn the state into a bastion of “censorship and surveillance.”
“If signed into law, these bills will have disastrous impacts on classrooms and workplaces,” the group said in a statement. “They will turn Florida into a surveillance state and give the government broad license to censor conversations about American history, the origins of racism and injustice, and the existence of LGBTQ people.”
Democrats vehemently oppose the bill, which would allow parents to sue school districts they believe are breaking the law. President Joe Biden weighed in earlier this month, calling the proposal a “hateful” attack on LGBTQ Americans.
The bill specifically targets kindergarten through third grade classrooms and seeks to bar discussions that are deemed “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” State Rep. Joe Harding (R), who introduced the legislation, said it was about “empowering parents,” adding that students won’t be barred from speaking about LGBTQ issues.
“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,” Harding said this week, according to the Miami Herald. “It’s actually providing boundaries and it’s fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect.”
But critics say the language in the bill is overly broad, letting parents potentially sue if they believe any reference to LGBTQ people or issue is inappropriate.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D), the first openly LGBTQ Latino to serve in the Florida Legislature, teared up during a speech earlier this week in opposition to the bill, questioning “what topics specifically about myself, LGBTQ Floridians, are not appropriate to teach.”
“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,” Smith told his fellow lawmakers Thursday before the bill passed.
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