Florida Republican state lawmakers are proposing a slew of new bills that would expand the state’s already restrictive laws on discussion of gender and sexuality in schools across the state.
A law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last year, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law in the state, puts immense restrictions on what teachers or other school employees can discuss with students regarding those topics. No teacher of students in grades K-3, for example, can discuss any kind of issue relating to gender or sexuality. For all other grades, the law requires teachers to follow a vague “age-appropriate” standard for discussing such issues.
Though teachers are technically allowed to discuss certain sexuality and gender topics, the effect of the law has stifled discussion up through high schools, as school districts have become mindful of the fact that parents or residents of districts can sue if they believe such discussions, lessons or other actions taken by districts aren’t age-appropriate.
The law has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on LGBTQ students, limiting who they can turn to, outside of their homes, if they have questions or need to talk to a trusted adult about a situation that is troubling them, such as bullying in the hallways or a difficult homelife. It also limits how straight, cisgender students can learn about these topics and become more tolerant individuals themselves through lessons or discussions.
Three new bills have been proposed in the Florida state legislature over the past few weeks, all of which expand on the regulations that have been implemented so far.
House Bill 1223 would institute many additional measures to the current “Don’t Say Gay” law. It would extend the prohibition on discussion of any topics relating to sexuality or gender from third grade to eighth grade, keeping in place the vague “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” restrictions on topics for high schoolers. It would also define “sex” as an “immutable biological trait,” and put restrictions on transgender students, who wouldn’t be able to use the restroom that corresponded to their gender.
The bill also gives cisgender students allowances to call their trans peers by the wrong name or pronouns without repercussion from the school, giving those students license to bully without consequence. Teachers would also be barred from asking students what their pronouns are, and would be prohibited from telling students their own pronouns.
The other two bills are similar. House Bill 1069 also redefines “sex” as being determined by a person’s “reproductive function at birth,” and adds that “reproductive roles are binary, stable, and unchangeable,” defying the scientific understanding of how gender actually works. It would also limit the teaching about the prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (as well as health education in general), allowing such lessons to only be taught to students in grades 6-12.
Senate Bill 1320, meanwhile, also prohibits teachers or other school employees from sharing their pronouns or asking students about theirs, as well as barring the teaching of sexuality or gender identity in grades K-8.
In addition to likely creating a more stifling environment than what is already in existence in Florida schools under the original “Don’t Say Gay” law, the new bills largely disregard the scientific and educational expertise regarding gender and gender identity, including what ages experts say discussions of such topics should begin.
According to Mayo Clinic, most children understand what their own gender is around age 3, with kids, by ages 5 or 6, becoming “rigid” about their gender — including kids who may then or someday in the future be transgender or nonbinary.
Allowing children to have open conversations about gender issues, even at younger ages, is important to “foster a positive sense of self,” Mayo Clinic says.
Equality Florida Public Policy director Jon Harris Maurer lambasted the new bills, saying they appear to be pushed solely to promote DeSantis as he gears up for a likely run for the GOP nomination for president in 2024.
“This legislation is about a fake moral panic, cooked up by Governor DeSantis to demonize LGBTQ people for his own political career,” Harris Maurer said.
Community activist and former state lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith also derided the proposed bills.
“The provisions of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay 2.0 bill imposing state regulations of pronouns are absurd and the GOP should be embarrassed,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that Republicans should prioritize issues like housing and healthcare rather than try to regulate children’s pronouns.
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