Culture Wars /

Florida Legislature Passes Parental Rights in Education Bill, Now Headed to DeSantis

The bill's passage has fueled an outcry from opponents who claim the legislation is 'hateful' and 'homophobic'

On Tuesday, the Florida state senate approved House Bill 1557, legislation regulating how schools handle sexual orientation and gender identity lessons, a move that seems to have fueled the ongoing culture wars in America.

HB 1557, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, prohibits Florida’s school system from teaching students in kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Opponents have referred to the legislation as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. They feel the restriction of the sexual subject matter at a young age may cause harm to children.

However, supporters of the bill, including its sponsor, Dennis Baxley, hold that these discussions should be the responsibility of a parent instead of educators.

“Some discussions are for [having] with your parents. And I think when you start having sexual-type discussions with children, you’re entering a very dangerous zone. Your awareness should pop up right away, this isn’t teaching,” said Baxley.

The bill is now headed to Governor DeSantis to be signed into law. The governor has implied he will sign the measure, saying it will protect Florida’s youngest students from exposure to sensitive topics in the state’s schools.

“We are going to make sure parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into some of their school curriculum,” said DeSantis.

Besides prohibiting the controversial topics for the youngest public school students, lessons for older students would have to be “age-appropriate.” 

Opponents argue the bill is so vague that it will suppress all conversations about LGBTQ issues in school-aged children. However, supporters say the legislation only prevents planned lessons but does not prohibit discussions between students or stop teachers from answering questions from a student.

“The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill isn’t just hateful — it’s homophobic and ignorant, and it only moves us further away from the progress we’ve made as a nation,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson

However, the bill does not prohibit the discussion of sexuality and identity; it merely restricts the structured lessons plans overseen by the school administration. 

Rep. Joe Harding, who introduced the bill, said: 

“Conversations are going to happen… children, and students ask a lot of questions. Life and discussions relating to life, any discussion from a broad discussion of whether it’s your parents and how they identify, or another student in the classroom, or whatever they may be, they’re going to happen. Those are conversations. We’re talking about specific procedures that the school has.”

The bill also permits parents to sue school districts if they believe their children have been subjected to inappropriate lessons. This provision has some lawmakers concerned that a wave of lawsuits would impact school systems already struggling with budgetary shortfalls. 

Although some conservative parents and political groups have supported the bill, polling last month demonstrates that most Floridians are against its implementation. 

A University of North Florida poll found that 57% of state residents oppose HB1557, while only 34% wanted it to be passed.

Florida’s HB 1557 is one of many such bills nationwide designed to prohibit teachers and administrators from presenting lesson materials related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, nine states are considering bills that would ban library books with LGBTQ content or prohibit teachers from discussing words such as “transgender” in the classroom.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida vowed on Tuesday that it will pursue legal action if the bill is “interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher or family.” 

“All youth deserve to be validated, supported, and included in our schools,” GLAD said on Twitter. “This censorship bill sends a dangerous message to #LGBTQ+ youth and will hurt all Florida students’ ability to learn about their world.”

President Biden has called the legislation a “hateful bill” and stated he would give his full support to the students who may be affected. 

Supporters of HB 1557 articulated the bill’s core components as a matter of parents’ rights. They argue that discussions around sexuality can negatively affect students’ mental and physical health and well-being. The bill and its sponsors say the goal is to support the essential rights of parents to make decisions regarding the sexual subject matter for their children.

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