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Florida House passes controversial measure dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill by critics

Florida State Rep. Carlos Smith speaks at a press conference at the Florida state capital in opposition to HB 1577, dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill by critics, on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Rick Wilson
Florida State Rep. Carlos Smith speaks at a press conference at the Florida state capital in opposition to HB 1577, dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill by critics, on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida's House of Representatives passed a controversial bill on Thursday limiting when and how teachers and school staff can discuss gender and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Opponents — many of whom have taken to calling the measure the "Don't Say Gay" bill — say it will make life harder for LGBTQ youth, who already face a higher rate of bullying and a higher risk of suicide than their straight, cisgender peers.

But the Republican sponsor behind HB 1557 says it aims to have schools teach gender and sexuality at an appropriate age and to keep parents informed about what's happening in the classroom.

The legislation prohibits any instruction about sexuality or gender between kindergarten and third grade "or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."

It would also guarantee parents access to their children's education and health records and require that schools notify parents "if there is a change in the student's services or monitoring related to the student's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school's ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student."

Schools could withhold information from parents if they believed that disclosing it could result in abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Thursday's vote drew condemnation from LGBTQ advocates and Democratic politicians in the state.

"As expected, the #DontSayGayBill just passed the Florida House, but SEVEN Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it," Rep. Carlos G Smith said in a tweet.

"I want to thank [the Florida House Democrats] for their consistent allyship and also thank the gang of 7 who saw our humanity and rejected this terrible legislation," he added.

President Biden previously slammed the proposal as well. "I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are," Biden tweeted earlier this month. "I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

The bill passed the House by a vote of 69-47, according to the chamber's website. Related legislation is under consideration in the state Senate.

It's unclear whether Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis would sign the bill if it reached him, but he did indicate his general support for the effort during an event in early February.

"We've seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, 'Oh, don't worry, don't pick your gender yet, do all this other stuff.' They won't tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate," DeSantis said at the time.

"The larger issue with all of this is parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what's going on in their schools," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez

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