On Tuesday, activists promised action after the Florida legislature passed a bill that aims to restrict discussion of LGBTQ issues in classrooms throughout the state.
The Parental Rights in Education bill, which LGBTQ activists and allies have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed in the Florida Senate by a vote of 22 to 17. Two Republican senators crossed the aisle to join all Democratic lawmakers in the chamber in voting against the legislation.
The bill, which previously passed in the state House of Representatives, is now headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. In past statements, DeSantis has indicated that he supports the bill.
If the bill is signed into law, it would ban discussion on LGBTQ topics in primary school classrooms, and place strict limits on what can be taught or discussed in high schools. It would also allow parents to sue school districts if information about their children is withheld, or if instruction on LGBTQ topics is not “age-appropriate.”
Activists have warned of severe consequences if the bill becomes law — including increased harassment of LGBTQ students and fewer consequences for individuals who bully them, due to vague language in the bill that might prevent victims from stepping forward.
If DeSantis signs the bill into law, it would go into effect starting July 1, meaning that it wouldn’t affect the current academic year but would apply to schools in the fall.
The author of the bill, Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R), claims that the legislation isn’t meant to harm LGBTQ students, but rather to restrict school districts from “insert[ing] themselves” into discussions best left to families. However, the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), has stated that the bill is meant to reduce the number of children that are coming out as LGBTQ in the state.
Although the bill is supported by some conservative parents and political groups in the state, polling from last month demonstrates that most Floridians are against its implementation. A University of North Florida poll found that 57 percent of state residents oppose the bill, while only 34 percent of residents want it to be passed.
Activists and lawmakers have decried the bill as hateful and detrimental to the well-being of children in Florida.
“The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill isn’t just hateful — it’s homophobic and ignorant, and it only moves us further away from the progress we’ve made as a nation,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida).
“All youth deserve to be validated, supported, and included in our schools,” GLAD said in a statement on Twitter. “This censorship bill sends a dangerous message to #LGBTQ+ youth and will hurt all Florida students’ ability to learn about their world.”
Others vowed to take legal action if the bill was signed into law and caused harm to LGBTQ youth.
“Let us be clear: should the vague language of this bill be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family, we will lead legal action against the State of Florida to challenge this bigoted legislation,” read a social media post from Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights group in the state.
On Monday, more than 500 students protested against the legislation by staging a walkout at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida. Will Larkins, a junior who helped organize the demonstration, vowed that students would continue protesting if DeSantis signed the bill into law.
“This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere,” Larkins said.