TELLAHASSY — The measure that would expand the controversial 2022 Parental Rights to Education Act — known to critics as “Don’t Say Gay” — is set for consideration by the full Florida Senate.
The proposal (SB 1320) would expand the Act of 2022’s prohibition of instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The Republican-controlled Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday approved the measure, sending it to the full Senate despite stiff opposition from Democrats and other pundits. The House has already passed a similar bill, and the committee’s vote Thursday brought the issues one step closer to going to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
John Harris Maurer, director of public policy for the Florida LGBTQ+ equality group, called the bill “dehumanizing” vulnerable LGBT youth.
“What makes my family such a sensitive subject that cannot be discussed in schools any more than any of yours?” Maurer asked the Senate committee members.
Sen. Shivrin Jones, a Democrat from Parks Miami who is openly gay, also criticized the bill and pointed to the ongoing feud between DeSantis and The Walt Disney Co. spurred by the company’s opposition to the 2022 law,
“Fighting Disney and big corporations – that’s a beating. They can handle themselves. But what we’re doing is beating. We’re attacking individuals who can’t stand up for themselves and fight for themselves,” Jones said.
But Senate sponsor Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, defended the measure.
“We need to allow children to be children, and our laws should set appropriate boundaries that respect the rights and responsibilities of parents. The decision about when and whether to introduce certain subjects to children is up to parents, who need not worry that their students are receiving instruction in the classroom about Topics and materials that parents feel are age inappropriate, or inappropriate for that matter, Yarborough said.
Another controversial part of the bill would restrict the way teachers and students can use preferred pronouns in schools.
Under the bill, teachers and other school personnel are prohibited from telling students their preferred pronouns “if such personal nouns or pronouns do not correspond to his or her gender.” Students also can’t be asked for their favorite pronouns.
Senators rejected a proposed change from Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, that sought to put decisions about pronoun use in the hands of parents. Berman suggested requiring school staff to refer to students by their preferred pronouns unless the parents notify the principals in writing that a different pronoun should be used.
Berman, who said the bill “has a very real risk of outing transgender children in front of their peers,” said rejecting her proposal would be a denial of parental rights.
If we do not accept this amendment, we are going against the laws we have already passed. Specifically, the Parental Rights to Education Act which recognizes the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, education, and upbringing of their children.”
But Yarborough refused, saying the bill would allow for cases in which decisions about pronoun use are left to the discretion of teachers.
“If the student and parent jointly present a pronoun to the teacher, I think the question on the table is, can the teacher use the pronoun? If it doesn’t violate the teacher’s personal convictions, then they can do it,” Yarborough said.
The measure will also build on another measure passed by the legislature last year that increased scrutiny of library school books and educational materials.
For example, the bill seeks to make it easier for people to file complaints by making objection forms “easy to read and understand” and available on district websites.
The bill also says that in disputes based on claims that the material contains pornography or “describes sexual conduct,” that material must be “unavailable to students until the objection is resolved.”