A group of Florida students took to the Capitol steps in Tallahassee Monday morning in a last-ditch plea with state senators to vote down a controversial measure dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics.
Students chanted “we say gay” and planned sit-in protests throughout the day as the Senate prepares to take up the controversial HB 1557, which proponents say would bolster parental rights.
But opponents say it would create a dangerous environment for students.
“Our students have no choice but to be here,” transgender educator Cyrus Bresseck said. “Their lives are being politicized. They are being actively threatened. And our classrooms are being set up as the traps.”
HB 1557 would ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 and only allow it when “developmentally” or “age-appropriate” in other contexts. The measure allows parents to sue school districts that violate the rule, and critics also worry the bill may force teachers or school staff to out LGBTQ kids to parents.
Elizabeth Planer, a Leon High School senior, said removing the discussion of sexual orientation and gender generates a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that creates a “breeding ground for intolerance.” She said she had to help a friend who was the child of lesbian parents deal with years of bullying because sexual orientation was ignored.
“Our peers only knew about the rumors their parents would say and the anti-gay rhetoric they would spread to their children. The school did nothing to interfere. We could’ve been taught that it was not unnatural to have LGBTQ parents. We could have been taught more. Instead, we had our education taken away from us,” she said.
Planer was joined by other students who have been speaking against HB 1557 in recent months saying it would rob them of their identity.
Bill supporters, like Sen. Dennis Baxley, have said the bill is all about the parents. It would add to last year’s Parents Bill of Rights legislation.
“We are moving, and have been moving, in a direction of empowerment of parents that they’re supposed to be in charge,” Baxley said in a Senate panel last week. “That is describing what goes on around social value issues — when you try to reach over from the educational arm of our society, and address these in a way that doesn’t observe the authority of parents to establish those values.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican, tried to pass an amendment that would’ve swapped the words “sexual orientation or gender identity” for “human sexuality.” The measure was supported by Democrats and the LGBTQ community who said it would more closely accomplish the bill’s stated mission rather than targeting the LGBTQ community. But the amendment was voted down.
LGBTQ activists said the bill could have deadly real-world consequences. Schools are often seen as the only safe place for some LGBTQ youth who might have parents resistant to their children’s sexual or gender identity. LGBTQ youth often face rejection and violence at home leading to inflated suicide and homelessness rates among them.
The House passed the bill Thursday. It was immediately met with students walking out of classrooms across the state in protest. Some in Tallahassee even headed to protest in the Capitol where their chants could be heard through the closed doors of committee meetings.
Criticism over the bill ramped up this weekend after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw likened opponents of the bill to pedophiles “grooming” children in a tweet.
“If you’re against the anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4- to 8-year-old children,” she wrote. “Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.
— Christina Pushaw 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) March 4, 2022
Some lawmakers were quick to rebuke Pushaw.
“They’re saying we’re all pedophiles. It’s unhinged, unreal,” Democrat Rep. Anna Eskamani said. “And coming out of the Governor’s Office, it’s so ridiculous.”
Rep. Angie Nixon even called for Pushaw’s resignation, tweeting Pushaw “has shown us she’s anti-Semitic and now that she’s openly homophobic. She definitely needs to resign.”
Criticism over the bill even made it to “Saturday Night Live” this week. During a Weekend Update segment, Kate McKinnon, an openly gay SNL cast member, lampooned the bill’s supporters who claim teaching children about other genders or sexual preferences too young could confuse them.
“So, like, one kid can say, ‘I live with my parents,’” McKinnon jokes. “But another one has to say, ‘I live in a house with two adult men who bought me when I was young?’ That’s good. They’ll be way less confused then.”
She ended her segment by saying, “If the ’90s were right and ‘gay’ means bad, then this is the gayest law I’ve ever seen” and singing the word “gay” to the opening guitar riff of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”
The Senate is expected to pass the bill Monday.