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Florida Teacher Under Investigation for Showing Disney Movie With Gay Character

The film, “Strange World,” is rated PG and features a character who is very briefly shown to be gay.

The Cast of Disney's "Strange World" attend a multimedia event for the film at Picturehouse Central in London, England, United Kingdom, on November 19, 2022.

An elementary school teacher in Florida is under investigation by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) for showing a Disney movie featuring a gay character, an action that a right-wing member of the school board claims is in violation of the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Jenna Barbee, a fifth-grade teacher in the Hernando County School District, showed her students the film “Strange World” as part of a science lesson. The animated action-comedy is about a group of people who travel to the inside of a fictional planet. One of the characters is a gay teenager, whose sexuality is not an important part of the plotline and is only alluded to briefly in the film.

Barbee has said on social media that although she didn’t select the film solely because of the gay character, she does have LGBTQ students and felt it was important to foster an inclusive classroom.

The school district has confirmed that Barbee’s showing of the movie is the basis for the investigation, which came about after just one parent complained about the film being “inappropriate.” At a recent school board meeting, Barbee said that she believes she is being targeted by Shannon Rodriguez, a board member whose child is in her class, and who was endorsed by the far right group Moms for Liberty in last fall’s board elections.

Though Moms for Liberty purports to be a grassroots organization of concerned parents, it is actually funded by conservative groups and has deep ties to Republican operatives, Media Matters has documented. The group, which has more than 100 chapters across the U.S., has coordinated demands for changes to a number of school rules, including for the loosening of COVID-19 prevention protocols and for censorship of lessons on Black or LGBTQ history. The organization frequently engages in fear mongering and pushes baseless and harmful rhetoric about “groomers” to achieve their ends.

Barbee defended her action at the recent board meeting.

“The word indoctrination is thrown around a lot right now, but it seems that those who are using it are using it as a defense tactic for their own fear-based beliefs without understanding the true meaning of the word,” Barbee said.

At that same meeting, Rodriguez accused Barbee of “playing the victim,” claiming that she was imposing her beliefs on her students.

The state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law bars K-3 teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues in the classroom, but allows “age-appropriate” conversations about such topics for older grades. Although the state legislature recently passed an expansion of “Don’t Say Gay” that forbids discussion of LGBTQ topics at any grade level, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has not yet signed it into law.

Given that the character’s sexuality was not part of the classroom discussion, however, it’s unlikely that Barbee is in violation of the law. Barbee has also noted that all parents of students in her class signed a permission slip at the beginning of the year allowing their children to view PG-rated films in the classroom. “Strange World” has a PG rating.

In a subsequent TikTok video, Barbee said that her students are now being harassed by FDOE officials, who are removing children from her class, one at a time, to discuss whether or not she was indoctrinating them.

“Do you know the trauma that is going to cause to some of my students? Some of them can barely come and have a conversation with me, and are just getting comfortable with me, and now an investigator is allowed to come and interrogate them,” Barbee pointed out. “Are you kidding me? What is that showing them?”

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