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Don't Say Gay Bill

Children in St. Petersburg, Florida protest H.B. 1557, the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" bill, on March 3, 2022. (Photo: Eric Lynn/Twitter)

Despite Student Revolt, 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Passes Florida Senate

"It's not over yet," MoveOn tweeted. "DeSantis can and must veto this bill to avoid causing further harm."

Brett Wilkins

Human rights advocates on Tuesday denounced Republican state senators in Florida for passing a so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" bill, while imploring GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis to "do the right thing" and veto what they called the homophobic and transphobic legislation.

"This act of government censorship is ruthless and is designed to erase the existence of all LGBTQ+ stories and people from our Florida schools."

"Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Republicans sacrificed the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students in order to appeal to the most radical parts of their base," Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40) said in a statement after the Florida Senate voted 22-17 in favor of H.B. 1557. Two Senate Republicans—Jeff Brandes (24) and Jennifer Bradley (5)—joined all Democrats in voting against the measure.

The bill bans public school teachers from "instruction" about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade—even though such subjects are not taught in those grades—or at any level that is not "age-appropriate," an undefined term. The bill also empowers parents to sue schools that fail to comply with its opaque terms.

"H.B 1557 will directly harm already vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth and put their lives at risk," ACLU of Florida legislative director and senior policy counsel Kara Gross said in a statement. "Florida politicians should be ashamed of its passage. This bill is a disgrace."

Despite statewide protests by students and supporters—including classroom walkouts last week and a rally at the state Capitol on Monday—DeSantis, who is widely believed to have 2024 presidential ambitions, has suggested he will sign the bill into law. Last week, Christina Pushaw, the governor's press secretary, suggested in a tweet that opponents of the measure are pedophiles or support pedophilia.

Taddeo's statement said that the bill "directly targets the LGBTQ+ community," while her office noted that "extensive research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk for bullying and are more likely to suffer added stress and anxiety surrounding their identity. This is a community that needs more support—not more stigmatization."

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12), one of the bill's sponsors, said the "trendy posture" of some LGBTQ+ children worried him.

"Why is everybody now all about coming out when you're at school?" Baxley said on the Senate floor before the vote. "How much of this are [sic] genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities and experimenting?"

Gross said: "Make no mistake; this anti-LGBTQ+ bill affects all Florida students and teachers. With this bill, politicians have essentially silenced teachers and students from speaking and learning about LGBTQ+ siblings, family members, friends, neighbors, and icons."

"This act of government censorship is ruthless and is designed to erase the existence of all LGBTQ+ stories and people from our Florida schools," she continued. "The government should never be in the business of passing censorship bills. All of our kids should feel loved, accepted, and supported. This bill does the opposite. Banning the free speech of teachers and students is harmful and dangerous. Targeting LGBTQ+ kids and family members is discriminatory and cruel."

Cathryn M. Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that "the Florida state Legislature is playing a dangerous political game with the health and safety of LGBTQ+ kids. The existence of LGBTQ+ people across Florida is not up for debate. We are proud parents, students, and teachers, and LGBTQ+ people deserve to exist boldly, just like everyone else."

"Discriminatory pieces of legislation like the 'Don't Say Gay or Trans' bill don’t solve any critical issues in Florida. Instead, these bills shamefully attack and endanger LGBTQ+ students who are just trying to get a quality education, whom the state has an obligation to treat fairly and protect," Oakley added.

Advocates stressed that DeSantis hasn't signed the bill into law yet, while urging him to wield his veto pen.

"It's not over yet," tweeted MoveOn. "DeSantis can and must veto this bill to avoid causing further harm."

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