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Florida Moves to Restrict Teaching About Sexual Orientation


"Lawmakers in several other states, including Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, have introduced similar measures in the past year."


Florida Moves to Restrict Teaching About Sexual Orientation


Bill sponsored by Republican lawmakers aims to assert more parental control over what is taught; opponents call it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he needs to review whatever measure ultimately passes before taking a position, but that he supports the principle of parents’ rights.


By Arian Campo-Flores, WSJ


Feb. 25, 2022 8:00 am ET


MIAMI—Lawmakers in the Republican-led Florida House passed a measure Thursday that would restrict teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, opening a new front in a broader battle over what can be taught in America’s classrooms.


The aim is to assert more parental control over children’s education and to bar inappropriate content from the classroom, according to backers of the bill, which awaits a vote in the GOP-led Senate. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he needs to review whatever measure ultimately passes before taking a position, but that he supports the principle of parents’ rights.


“Injecting these concepts about choosing your gender—that is just inappropriate for our schools,” he said recently. “Schools need to be teaching kids to read and write.”


Democrats, civil-rights groups and other opponents say the proposal, which they call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would censor discussion about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and isolate LGBT children who are vulnerable to bullying. It drew a rebuke from President Biden, who called it “hateful” in a tweet earlier this month.


Lawmakers in several other states, including Iowa, South Carolina and West Virginia, have introduced similar measures in the past year. A bill filed in Tennessee would forbid schools from using textbooks and instructional material that promote or support LGBT lifestyles.


Debating what goes on in the classroom has proved a polarizing and a galvanizing force in local politics across the country. Conservative lawmakers have proposed legislation to ban teaching about critical race theory—which argues that the legacy of white supremacy is entrenched in U.S. laws and institutions—or increase transparency around school curricula.


The Florida House also passed a measure Thursday that would designate as discriminatory any instruction of students or employees that says people are “inherently racist” or should feel guilt for actions committed in the past by members of their same race.


The Florida gender and sexuality bill is the latest in a string of legislation centered on these issues in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group. Previous proposals include bills banning transgender girls from playing in girls’ school sports.


Under the measure, Florida would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade and ban it in later grades if not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It bars school districts from withholding information about a student’s mental, emotional or physical health, including gender identity, from parents. Another provision allows parents to sue school districts over alleged violations of the bill.


Republican Rep. Joe Harding, sponsor of the House version of the bill, said Tuesday during a floor debate that the measure doesn’t limit the speech of students or curtail discussions of different types of families, including those with same-sex parents.


Proponents of the bill say they are trying to ensure parents, not teachers, are the ones discussing issues of sexuality and gender with their children. “In the school system, there are people who believe it’s their job to socialize these children,” said Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley, sponsor of a companion measure in the Senate. “Parents are the authority in the rearing and training of these students.”


Parents and groups that oppose the bill say children who don’t feel comfortable talking about their sexuality with their parents need to be able to confide in another adult, sometimes a teacher. The bill’s wording that instruction must be age-appropriate is so broad that it is hard to know what is restricted, suppressing discussion more broadly as a result, they say.


Brian Kerekes, a 37-year-old high-school teacher in Kissimmee, Fla., said students have approached him to share their gender identity. He said he considers it his job to provide a safe space for them to learn, and to respect requests such as which pronouns students would like used.


The bill “adds stress and anxiety,” he said. “But that isn’t going to stop me from being there to support a student if they need help.”


The measure is “basically reinforcing a culture of silence,” said Ken Rivera, a 50-year-old central Florida resident who opposes the bill and whose 11-year-old daughter identifies as bisexual.


Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com


Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


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