Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix
After weeks of multiple bills moving through legislative committees, GOP House lawmakers on Thursday combined three controversial measures into one — all about how Florida public schools operate regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
The combination bill is now headed to the full House, even as the three-pronged measure could create a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ staff and students in Florida’s public schools.
A House subcommittee on education quality created an amended HB 1069 on Thursday. That bill, through an amendment, absorbed language from HB 1223. There are three major measures in the new amended HB 1069:
/Language from the original HB 1223 would place restrictions on how pronouns can be used in Florida public schools among students and faculty.
/It also would prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades PreK through 8th grade. (The 8th grade measure connects to last year’s bill, which prohibited topics up through 3rd grade and other vague limitations in older grades.)
/The third measure would provide parents more opportunities to weigh in on what books should be available to students in classrooms, potentially leading to bans involving books on the LGBTQ+ community.
The original HB 1069 had already been raising concerns from members of the LGBTQ+ community. The new and amended HB 1069 includes a state definition for the word “sex,” in context of gender and reproductive function, which advocates say ignores transgender people.
With all of these provisions combined into one bill, gay and transgender advocates worry about the continuing trends of censorship and chilled speech in Florida’s classrooms.
Joe Saunders, senior political director for LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida, noted that the newly amended HB 1069, “doubles down” on restrictions set out in HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has led to confusion in school districts as to what is prohibited under the law.
“We’ve seen anti bullying programs and safe space stickers ripped off of classroom walls in our schools,” Saunders told lawmakers in the Thursday subcommittee.
“Teachers take pictures of their families off of their desks because it might lead to a discussion instruction on these topics, like we saw in Orange County. We saw teachers told not to wear ‘ally’ lanyards or stickers that create safe spaces, because somehow it might invite a conversation that is now against the law….high school valedictorians in Sarasota County were told not to mention their sexual orientation in their graduation. We’re seeing history teachers told not to mention that the first woman in space, Sally Ride, was a lesbian…because it might violate a law that, up until this year, was only supposed to be to third grade.”
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