Joe Henderson: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is just the GOP’s latest attack on teachers

The "Don't Say Gay" bill is latest GOP battlefield in the culture wars.

While the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill inexorably moves through the Legislature, there’s one big thing the Republican Thought Police still don’t get.

People don’t choose to be gay.

They are gay because they’re born that way.

A teacher can’t talk them into it, and their parents can’t talk them out of it.

Yet, HB 1557 would allow parents to sue their school system if the son or daughter hears something in class their parents decide is not “age or developmentally appropriate.”

Whatever that means.

Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the bill, told the Tallahassee Democrat it “empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives.”

Empowers? If parents need a law to become engaged in their children’s lives, then shame on them.

Schools welcome the help in various ways, such as the PTA and other volunteer activities. I wonder how many parents who can’t find the time to attend teacher conference nights would go off like a Saturn rocket if Johnny told them that his homework tonight is a study of the struggle for gays to gain equality?

The GOP’s ongoing assault on teachers proceeds from the assumption that an instructor might try to convert a gullible, confused student into a tawdry lifestyle. That is, of course, ridiculous, even for the GOP Fear Machine.

Being gay is not a lifestyle, and it’s not sexuality. It’s an orientation, beyond an individual’s control.

A former colleague and I discussed this issue a few years ago. She is gay and said with a shrug, “It never occurred to me to be anything else.”

The underlying tone of this bill is that it should have occurred to her.

Republicans, the party of “FREEDOM BABY,” fought against gay rights for years. Many of them thought the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage the law of the land was the latest sign of the apocalypse.

Now, we have “Don’t Say Gay.”


Is there an avalanche of data suggesting we need this law? Are kids coming home in tears because their teacher made them feel guilty because they aren’t gay?

No, this is just another battlefront in the GOP culture war, and people will get hurt.

In a recent guest column for Florida Politics, Nancy Brinker declared, “As a Republican, a former diplomat, mother of a proud gay son, and life-long defender of equal rights, I strongly oppose this legislation and the danger it poses to the future of our state,” she wrote.

“This bill’s dangerously vague provisions would have a chilling effect on support for at-risk LGBTQ youth because it creates broad and costly new liabilities for already cash-strapped school districts.”

The bill has already passed the House and appears to have support from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But consider this: If it becomes law, don’t be surprised if there is an escalation of teachers leaving the profession.

The Florida Education Association reported that when the current school year began last August, there were 4,961 teaching vacancies and 3,753 vacancies in the support staff throughout the state. Sarasota recently asked parents to stand in as substitute teachers because few people want to do that job.

Wouldn’t it be better for lawmakers to work on a real problem instead of a fake one?

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • nail

    March 2, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    Joe thank you very much for this article. Today, I was with 7 friends celebrating a milestone birthday. Most of us grandmothers talking about our kids accomplishments. 2 of our friends started talking about this bill, plus other, stifling unconstitutional bills, that DeSantis has rammed through with the help of his sycophants in the R controlled legislature.
    The 2 friends both have children that teach in Florida schools. Bth are leaving the school system. One at the end of this month the other the end of April.
    As 1 explained it to her mother, she was not going to wake up everyday and wonder if this is the day she gets sued. After 14 yrs in the system teaching middle school, she has had 2 students come to her asking for help. They both felt they had a problem coming out to their parents and were much more comfortable speaking with the teacher. She knew one of the parents of the most recent gay revelation. She suspected there was abuse, if not physical then verbal. Hense, this was the problem the child said. He was scared to death of his father. She worked with the boy and they called she the mother in. After speaking to her the mother broke down and said he could never tell his father. 2 weeks later the mother left the father with the child.
    This story broke my heart, that a loving caring teacher would leave the profession because of a barbaric law that puts Florida back 100 years.They both want to continue as teachers but have decided to move out of state. #2 grandmother said her daughter had decided to move out of state. She also was afraid of the new laws passed that will affect teachers. One is moving to RI where she said the housing costs is 1/4 less than FL plus the pay starts at almost $7,000/yr more. She does not have to worry about a lawsuit and the future authoritarian ruler of Florida. She told her mother that there have been many meetings of the teachers and 4 out of 10 will be leaving the profession. Some leaving the state for better pay and better working conditions in the actual “FREE states.”
    DeSantis keeps stumbling. 4 of us proclaimed they were Republicans but were changing there affliction because of his stifling “FREEDUMBS.” As we were leaving we all decided to volunteer for any job needed with the voting in FL. I volunteered with another friend to give the elderly idea to the polls. The local Sec of State they are having a hard time finding ppl that want to work with the elderly. She said she knew there vote was not going to be represented because Fl now has the same voting procedure as TX and they have had so many problems with the ballots.
    I have a feeling that DeSantis may have a hard time getting the votes he needs this time. But we all know that this is DeSantisland and he will by any means possible, win the vote.
    I really fear for this state if he wins. Fl has been on a decline in living conditions, and DeSantis takes no notice of any of this. He is on a roll appealing to the ppl to the wrong ppl supporting him.

    • Tom

      March 5, 2022 at 8:11 am

      You are right Joe, teacher pay bonuses for public school teachers on top of the pay increase 3 years ago is such an attack. With an additional bonus considered. Are you kidding me Joe? Really?

      Old adage in life, owners own, coaches coach and players play. Teachers are to teach, kids are to learn, how bout the reading, writing, math, science, etc. The K thru third graders will be fine.

      Over what, “don’t say gay” lie you continue to perpetuate. It don’t say, don’t say “gay” Joe. Period!

  • Ron Ogden

    March 2, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    “Being gay is not a lifestyle, and it’s not sexuality. It’s an orientation, beyond an individual’s control.”
    Nonsense, and antiquated nonsense at that. Homosexuality is specifically about sex. As such it has no particular place in any classroom, especially an elementary school classroom. Our schools are supposed to teach children how to think rationally and critically, not emotionally and in base self-interest. Put another way, our schools are supposed to teach them how to think with their brains, not with their genitals. From pedophilia to prostitution to sexual assault, being a slave to your “orientation” is the source for a good fraction of all the pain and anguish in the world. Gee, I’ve got an orientation toward Scotch whiskey, and my self-actualization is satisfied by drinking it by the barrel and then driving all night as fast as I can down urban streets, and don’t you dare tell me that it isn’t beyond my control.

    • Roger Perkins

      March 3, 2022 at 8:54 pm

      So then is heterosexuality is about sex also? The only difference in homo verses hetero is the person you love. Let me know when you made the choice to be hetero and why did you chose that way. Unfortunately it sounds like you are thinking with something other than your brain.

  • Tom

    March 3, 2022 at 6:01 am

    Joe, you know it doesn’t say, “don’t say gay”

  • Tom

    March 4, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    Joe you know, it don’t say, “don’t say gay”
    My goodness.

Comments are closed.


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