Anna Eskamani, Carlos Guillermo Smith say HB 1557 will endanger teens

Carlos Guillermo Smith
'Let's be clear: Yes, "Don't Say Gay" was a tagline, and effective.'

Two leading Democratic House critics of the “Parental Rights in Education Bill” joined other detractors Wednesday in predicting that it will reignite homophobic oppression and suppress gay teens.

Orlando Democratic Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith were joined on Wednesday by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist, Ohio activist Jim Obergefell and Winter Park student Will Larkin in predicting a new hostile environment for gay students in many schools.

The measure (HB 1557) would ban classroom “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The legislation does not restrict the topics from being barred across all ages if the school district deems the instruction age-inappropriate.

The legislation awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ final approval.

The attendees argued the bill is a legislative green light to homophobia, transphobia, and renewed denial of LGBTQ people in schools. They spoke at a forum entitled “Say Gay” hosted by the College Dems at the University of Central Florida. They predicted that the measure would also discourage gay students from seeking help in schools.

Democrats and other critics of the bill have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which angered the bill’s supporters, at least one of which accused the critics of being “groomers” — enablers of pedophilia.

That’s precisely the bigotry the legislative action unleashes, countered Eskamani on Wednesday. She and the others on the panel predicted that the bill could lead to a new era of terror for gay students in schools.

“That’s how offensive and low they have gotten,” Eskamani said.

Smith argued the bill’s danger might lie in a stifling effect on discussions of gay people in grades far behind the K-3 levels explicitly mentioned in the bill, and said that when teens are looking for understanding in schools, they may be rebuffed by the law.

“Let’s be clear,” Smith said. “Yes, ‘Don’t Say Gay’ was a tagline, and effective in making sure that people understood the objective of this legislation, of trying to censor conversations about LGBTQ people in public schools.”

He argued that the issue hinges on the Department of Education’s guidance on “age-appropriate” discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in each grade up to 12th.

“I want to point out, based on the observations I’ve made of School Board meetings across the state of Florida in the last couple of years, that while they are a vocal minority, there are a fringe group of folks in this state that don’t believe that any conversation LGBTQ people at any age are age-appropriate,” Smith said.

Crist said the bill is trying to demonize gay people.

“It’s like we’re going back to the 1950s or something, even before I was born,” Crist said.

Obergefell, a Democrat running for the state House in northern Ohio, said schools need to be protecting gay students, not denying them.

“These ridiculous claims that by talking about, by acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ+ people in the classrooms, (it) will somehow force kids to abandon their innate identity and become something they’re not is just ridiculous. It’s harmful. It’s hateful,” Obergefell said. “We were taught, ‘Don’t be gay.’ But we’re gay.”

Larkin, a junior and president of the Winter Park High School Queer Student Union, said the bill is not about parents but him and other gay students. The bill, he said, “puts queer people in danger.”

“I, a 17-year-old high schooler, have hundreds of comments in my posts and in my messages calling me a pedophile, saying disgusting things to me because I don’t support this bill,” Larkin said.

If the bill closes off open classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identities, it could reverse progress made in addressing suicides and homelessness among gay teens, he said.

“It’s going to get worse. And they know that,” he said.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]


8 comments

  • Holding the door

    March 23, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    Republicans hate gay people even though they are in the closet themselves

  • Antonio

    March 24, 2022 at 1:15 am

    These people are such liars. Where in the bill does it say anything about gay? There is no such bill in existence. To people that have read the bill (HB1557), it sounds like the Democrats oppose parents knowing what’s going on with their kids in school, and that they insist little kids need to hear sexually inappropriate talk. That is gross and inexcusable.

    • It’s funny

      March 28, 2022 at 8:37 pm

      Look it’s gonna be easy getting rid of this

      I seen the parents you support

      They can’t even do their own math

      They start going a b c 5 lol

  • Inmates are Running the Asylum

    March 24, 2022 at 5:48 am

    I’m all for parent’s rights, but my question is, was this bill even needed? I mean, was there a mad rush of K-3 teachers teaching about sexuality between teaching numbers, colors, how to read, and STEM? Seems to me they don’t have time.

    Those issues are more conservative issues that needed to be addressed than some law that feels a lot like a nanny state law. Feel more of a “Oh, protect us from the big bad teachers because we cannot protect our children ourselves.”

    And now getting called out on it they paint the critics as pedo-endorsors and it’s for parents rights? Where was the problem in the first place? Or was it misdriection?

    Could the legislative time be better spent on more important issues like Insurance carriers fleeing the state, tripled housing costs and rents, and some sort of gas tax relief?

  • Inmates Are Running the Asylum

    March 24, 2022 at 5:49 am

    I’m all for parent’s rights, but my question is, was this bill even needed? I mean, was there a mad rush of K-3 teachers teaching about sexuality between teaching numbers, colors, how to read, and STEM? Seems to me they don’t have time.

    Those issues are more conservative issues that needed to be addressed than some law that feels a lot like a nanny state law. Feel more of a “Oh, protect us from the big bad teachers because we cannot protect our children ourselves.”

    And now getting called out on it they paint the critics as pedo-endorsors and it’s for parents rights? Where was the problem in the first place? Or was it misdriection?

    Could the legislative time be better spent on more important issues like Insurance carriers fleeing the state, tripled housing costs and rents, and some sort of gas tax relief?

  • just sayin

    March 24, 2022 at 8:04 am

    So a bill that prevents teaching sex education to eight-year-olds will threaten teens? Can we get serious people back in the Democratic party? Give us viable options, please.

    • Grand OLD party

      March 28, 2022 at 8:38 pm

      Can you get anyone under 25 in the Republican Party? Lol

  • Comment

    March 24, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    For my digging into this push and groom is a no go for heterosexual.. Rights yeah groom no sexual preference laws and peed no discrimination

Comments are closed.


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