Florida House Passes ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

The Florida House of Representatives passed a law Project Thursday that would ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in state elementary schools.

The legislation — titled the Parental Rights in Education Act, but dubbed the Don’t Say Like Me Act — will now be headed to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is expected to pass. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for re-election and widely seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has previously signaled his support for the legislation and is expected to sign it into law.

Thursday’s vote, by 69 to 47, comes after weeks of national outrage over the measure that attracted the attention of international newspapers, hollywood actors and the White House.

Speaking to lawmakers at Florida House Hall, Representative Joe Harding, the Republican who introduced the bill, said the measure was about “empowering parents” and improving the quality of life for the state’s children.

“Putting limits at an early age on what is appropriate in our schools, when we fund our schools, is not hate,” Harding said. “It actually provides boundaries, and it’s only fair for our teachers and school districts to know what to expect.”

Harding has repeatedly stressed that the bill would not prevent students from talking about their LGBTQ families or class discussions about LGBTQ history, including events such as the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub, an Orlando gay club.

But critics said the legislation’s broad language could open up counties to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation about LGBTQ individuals or issues is inappropriate.

In an impassioned speech at the Florida House Hall on Thursday, Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay Democrat, told lawmakers that he purposely wore an upside down Rainbow Pride ribbon on his lapel “as a symbol that the gay community in Florida is in distress.”

“We’re in a bind because this bill is yet another attack on our community,” Smith said. “This bill overrides the text on its page. It sends a terrible message to our youth that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, and so dangerous about it, that we have to censor it from the injunctions of the class.”

Other opponents of the bill on the House floor spoke of the potential harm it could do to LGBTQ youth in the state, noting the residents’ horrific mental health struggles.

a national survey From the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and intervention group for LGBTQ suicides for young adults, it found that 42 percent of LGBTQ youths had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. It also found that more than half of transgender and non-binary youth surveyed take suicide seriously.

Separately, Trevor Project have found that LGBTQ youths who reported having at least one space for LGBTQ affirmation had lower rates of attempted suicide.

“Lawmakers should support LGBTQ students and their families and encourage schools to be inclusive, not pit parents against teachers and erase the LGBTQ community from public education,” said Amit Bali, CEO and CEO of the project, in a statement. “When legislators treat LGBTQ topics as taboo and label our society inappropriate for the classroom, it only adds to existing stigma and discrimination, further exposing LGBTQ youth to bullying, depression, and suicide.”

Democrats also announced that the text of the legislation makes it unclear what age groups the law may apply to. The bill states that discussions about “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is inappropriate for age or developmentally appropriate for students according to state standards.”

“Anyone who says this bill is only for kindergarten through third grade is either wrong or outright lying,” Representative Michael Greco, a Democrat, told fellow lawmakers.

In addition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill introduced in Florida, 15 bills are under consideration in eight states that would limit talk of LGBTQ identities in the classroom, according to PEN American, a nonprofit group that advocates for free speech. Three states passed similar laws last year — generally referred to as “no-Promo homo” laws — that allow parents to opt out of students from any classes or courses that indicate sexual orientation or gender identity, according to GLSEN, an advocacy group aimed at ending LGBTQ discrimination in education.

And in less than two months this year, conservative state lawmakers have introduced more than 170 anti-LGBTQ bills — already exceeding last year’s total of 139 — according to Freedom for All American. The nonprofit group, which advocates for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections across the country, previously told NBC News that it did not track LGBTQ school policy bills in the past year, because it wasn’t a “widespread trend” as it is now.

Most of the anti-LGBTQ legislation proposed this year — at least 92 bills — specifically target transgender people.

The White House did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment, but President Joe Biden did Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Rebukedvowing to “struggle for the protection and safety” of LGBT youth.

Speaking on the House floor, Smith echoed the president’s sentiments.

“I want to make sure that for young LGBTQ people in Florida and across the country and in the world who are watching, I want to make sure they know this: You are loved. You are supported. And we will wake up every day to fight for you because you are worth fighting for,” Smith said.

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