In what has become an unfathomable setting in Florida, Republican Rep. Joe Harding has introduced a bill that would threaten the life of every LGBTQ+ child in the State.
Florida House Republicans are considering his bill that would forbid teachers and students from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. The bill seems to be inspired by the recent debate over critical race theory, which looks at U.S. history through the lens of slavery and the accomplishment of African Americans. Proponents of the bill argue that it’s inappropriate to discuss homosexuality in the classroom, but advocates for the LGBTQ+ community say this bill would only demonize gay people.
Talking in School
The bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay”, was introduced by Republican Rep. Joe Harding. It states that, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on 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 gives parents the right to sue if teachers violate the law.
Harding says the bill isn’t meant to stop spontaneous discussions about the topic but prevent districts from intentionally inserting these themes into the school’s curriculum.
Critics argue that the language of the bill is vague and that parents could sue Florida school districts over any conversation they believe to be inappropriate.
During a discussion in the Florida House of Representatives, lawmakers asked questions about how educators should handle discussions about having two mothers. At that point, Harding shot back with, “The idea that somehow within this bill we are preventing a teacher from having discussions with their students is just incorrect.”
“Discussions about the different types of families, maybe an instruction relating to different types of families understanding that gender and sexual orientation relating to those students and getting deep into that part is exactly what we’re talking about,” Harding said. “Nowhere in here are we eliminating a discussion about the different types of families. I think that’s probably the biggest misquote on what the bill actually does.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Florida Democrat who identifies as gay, says the bill is deeply personal and would single out LGBTQ+ people as taboo.
“What topics specifically about people like myself, LGBTQ Floridians, are not appropriate to teach in the classroom? Is it topics about how LGBTQ people love one another? Is it topics about our marriages, which are legal in the United States and Florida, is it conversations about our families, or is it conversations about sexual activity?” he asked.
Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, slammed the proposed bill.
“It’s got to be a terrifying time to be an LGBTQ young person in this country to have your existence legislated by people who don’t look like you or live like you. But I think it’s important for us to tell those young people that they’re not alone in this,” Wolf told reporters.
“I really hope that in all of this coverage that LGBTQ young people see that they have allies and accomplices in the fight, that there are people who are going to work to defend them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I think it’s most important that they know that they are valued and loved exactly as they are.”
Less than an hour before lawmakers were set to debate the bill in the Florida House of Representatives, Harding removed an amendment that would’ve required educators to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents or guardian within six weeks of discovering their sexuality.
The amendment drew outrage from parents, educators, and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community alike.
When asked about the amendment, Harding said, “the exaggeration and misrepresentation in reporting about the amendment was a distraction; all the amendment did was create procedures around how, when and how long information was withheld from parents so that there was a clear process and kids knew what to expect.”
But exactly how the bill is being misinterpreted is a mystery. This screen grab of the bill with highlighted text shows that the School is to report directly to the parent or guardian any “Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student. Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives,” he added.
We spoke to various members of the LGBTQ+ community and how this bill would have affected them as children:
“I was questioning my sexuality from a young age. At school I was bullied because I was different, I was called queer, fag, the whole gammit, teachers knew of it too. If my parents had been informed that I might be gay, I may as well have ran away from home or signed my death warrant.”
“My parents were openly homophobic and made no bones about it. I lived in terror that one day they would find out and kick me out on the street. If this bill existed when I was young, I literally could have been murdered, or kicked out of my family home at 13”.
Adam R. Tampa.
The heinous bill is not only propagated by homophobia and perhaps a denial of Harding’s own internal sexual struggles, but his party and its agenda are widely sponsored by popular lifestyle brands.
Opponents say schools may be the only safe place for some kids to talk about their sexuality, and the bill would hurt kids who aren’t ready to come out to their parents or feel unsupported.
President Biden called the legislation “hateful” after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run for president in 2024, embraced the bill.
The bill recently advanced through the Florida House and is currently being debated in the Senate.