The state senate in Florida has passed the controversial ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill (House Bill 1557), which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The legislation passed by a 22-17 vote, along party lines, with the Republican majority voting in favor of it, except for two Republicans, Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley, and all Democratic senators voting against it.
The bill would require “prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.” It would also require “prohibiting school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”
It would allow parents to sue school districts to award damages for violations.
The bill now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled he would sign it into law.
“When you actually look at the bill, and it says ‘no sexual instruction to kids pre-K-3,’ how many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?” DeSantis told reporters at a press conference in Jacksonville on Friday. “It’s basically saying for younger students, do you really want them being taught about sex? And this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that.”
LGBTQ advocates and allies say the bill is the latest attack on LGBTQ and racial justice issues from Republican-dominated legislative chambers in Florida.
“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,” said Cathryn M. Oakley, State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel at the Human Rights Campaign. “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. LGBTQ+ Floridians are more than twice as likely to experience depression or anxiety compared to non-LGBT Floridians. Governor DeSantis must veto HB 1557.”
The bill passed the Florida House last month. The votes were also mainly along party lines, with 69 for, 47 against, and three not voting.
The White House previously criticized the measure, and President Joe Biden has called it “hateful.”
Shortly after the measure passed the Florida statehouse, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a statement that read, “leaders in Florida are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need.”
“The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Cardona wrote. “We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.”