Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature just passed the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as dubbed by critics, after the state Senate approved the measure on Tuesday by a 22-17 vote, with all “yea” votes cast by Republicans. Two GOP senators, Sens. Jennifer Bradley and Jeff Brandes, joined the chamber’s 15 Democrats to vote against it.
The Florida House passed the bill in February.
The measure now heads over to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who, in his commitment to the right-wing grievance issues that have been fueling his reelection campaign (and his prospects of a potential 2024 presidential bid), has backed the bill.
Under the legislation, which is officially titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, classroom discussion about ”sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
It would take effect on July 1.
The LGBTQ+ community and its allies have widely condemned the legislation as an attempt to censor and stigmatize LGBTQ+ teachers and students.
President Joe Biden slammed the “hateful” bill on Twitter last month.
The sponsor of the bill, Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R), has insisted that the measure wasn’t about shutting down discussions about LGBTQ+ issues; it “empowers parents” and “defines that there are certain instructions related to gender and sexual orientation that are just not appropriate at certain ages.”
However, critics point out that the bill’s vague language doesn’t make clear what those “certain instructions” are or when it’s ever been the case that schools were cramming inappropriate material about gender and sexual orientation down young kids’ throats. It’s a crucial point that touches on conservatives’ broader efforts to manufacture outrage over a non-existent issue at marginalized people’s expense.
And DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw’s tweets over the weekend defending the bill, which she whitewashed as an “Anti-Grooming” bill, further fueled fears that the legislation would perpetuate homophobic tropes about LGBTQ+ people being child molesters.
Florida state Rep. Carlos Smith (D), the state’s first openly gay Latino elected to the legislature, slammed Pushaw’s “bigoted attacks” on Sunday, to which the DeSantis official responded by baselessly suggesting that Smith himself might somehow be a pedophile.
The bill marks an amplification of conservative lawmakers’ attacks on LGBTQ+ youth, who’ve found themselves in the crosshairs of the GOP’s latest push to make “wokeness” and “liberal indoctrination” in schools a hot button issue in lieu of any actual policy platform ahead of the 2022 midterms. This particular type of grievance-stoking is also seen as a way to keep the more socially far-right, Trumpy voters within the party’s clutches.
The Florida legislation runs parallel with Republicans’ fixation on “critical race theory,” an academic framework that they’ve distorted into a catch-all term for any learning material that discusses systemic racism for fear that it may cause “discomfort” for white students. Florida Republicans, with DeSantis’ support, are poised to pass a bill that prohibits not just schools from teaching anything that triggers that “discomfort,” but also bans workplaces from enforcing any type of diversity training that supposedly does the same thing.
The GOP’s war on “wokeness,” combined with the notion of parental rights as rallying cause for its far-right base, has become a vehicle in red states for other purportedly pro-parent choice endeavors, like purging school library books and learning material that conservatives find offensive, leading to attempted bans that target books about race and LGBTQ+ issues.
A Texas GOP lawmaker is investigating over 800 books on race and gender in public school libraries that could “make students feel discomfort.”
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor (R) opened an investigation into 51 books that could “violate the state’s obscenity law,” with O’Connor arguing that kids were in danger of being exposed to “drawings of homosexual sex in a diagram” (the Republican official did not specify which book contained these diagrams). O’Connor shut down the investigation in February in the face of the backlash against his probe.
And Tennessee Republicans are currently considering a bill that would slap librarians and educators with criminal charges for providing unspecified “pornography and inappropriate content in books.”