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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Florida Lawmakers Pass “Don’t Say Gay” Laws

February 9, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

President Biden tweeted his opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” laws recently passed in Florida.

The White House doesn’t tweet much on Tuesday nights when most Americans are eating dinner, watching TV and helping the kids with homework. But on February 8 at 6:00 p.m., the White House’s official Twitter account wrote, “Today, conservative politicians in Florida advanced legislation designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids. Instead of making growing up harder for young people, @POTUS is focused on keeping schools open and supporting students’ mental health.”

President Biden’s personal Twitter account followed the White House tweet with an even more strongly worded comment: “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Biden has previously referred to these “Don’t Say Gay” bills as “hateful.” The Florida bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — would restrict any classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was simple, declarative support for LGBT+ minors who President Biden promised to protect at a town hall at the Constitution Center during the presidential campaign. The President signed an executive order on his first day in office, protecting LGBT+ people against discrimination in schools, health care, the workplace and other areas of American society.

Orlando, Florida was the site of the worst anti-LGBT+ attack in U.S. history on June 12, 2016. The Pulse nightclub was the scene of a mass shooting that killed 49 people, plus the gunman and wounded 53.

That White House tweet plus Biden’s own may very well be the first salvos in the culture wars that are fast becoming a central focus of both the midterms and the 2024 presidential election. Earlier on February 8, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders taking action to regulate what students can or cannot read… who they can or cannot be.”

And as PGN reported last week, GOP book bans are targeting race, LGBT+ and U.S. history; but 8 in 10 books banned have LGBT+ content.

The White House’s message was in response to an NBC News story attached to the tweet which signaled that Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential primary, was likely to sign the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” education bills passed by the state legislature. “The larger issue with all of this is parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what’s going on in their schools,” DeSantis said.

Two “parental rights in education” bills, Senate Bill 1834 and House Bill 1557, stipulate that parents must have more input in deciding what their children are taught. If the bills were to become law — which DeSantis suggested they would — these bills would give parents the right to sue school districts that violate the provisions of those bills. These are the latest in a series of what the Washington Post deemed “GOP snitch bills” on February 9.

Greg Sargent wrote in the Post that the “pernicious goal driving these bills that might well succeed politically” is “precisely because it remains largely unstated. The darker underlying premise here is that these bills are needed in the first place, because subversive elements lurk around every corner in schools, looking to pervert, indoctrinate or psychologically torture your kids.”

As PGN has reported, a 2021 survey by The Trevor Project, an LGBT+ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, found that 42% of more than 35,0000 LGBT+ youths surveyed seriously considered attempting suicide last year.

Opponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation assert that it would be harmful to Florida’s LGBT+ children as well as to teachers and would prevent open discourse in the classroom by gay and trans kids or children of gay and trans parents in talking about themselves and/or their families.

The advocacy group Equality Florida, who put out a video decrying the bills, said DeSantis is “using anti-LGBTQ legislation as a springboard to serve his national political ambitions.”

“His political agenda is driven not by the real pressing needs of our state but his desire to peel away Trump supporters as the two jockey for the 2024 GOP presidential primary,” Equality Florida wrote on Twitter. “He is willing to inflict harm on the most vulnerable in FL in order to shore up his extremist base.”

In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, “Make no mistake — this is not an isolated action. Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be. This is politics at its worst, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare.”

Critics of the legislation, including HRC and Chasten Buttigieg, call these bills “Don’t Say Gay.” Buttigieg is the husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and a teacher and activist. They and other critics argue these bills would weaponize parental rights to marginalize LGBTQ people.

HRC tweeted, “Our elected officials should be focused on solving real issues our community is facing — not endangering children.”

Buttigieg tweeted, “This will kill kids, @RonDeSantisFL. You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey (@TrevorProject), 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”

National Book Award-winner and Temple University alumnus Dr. Ibram X. Kendi wrote on Twitter February 8, “Imagine a bill barring your school from discussing you, a bill seeking to make an aspect of you invisible when you’re struggling to see and be your full self, and learn your full self in your world. These bills of bigotry are toxic to developing children.”

Gillian Branstetter, Press Secretary of the National Women’s Law Center and formerly of the National Center for Transgender Equality tweeted, “Trans kids are some of the most vulnerable kids in schools today not because of schoolyard taunts or misunderstandings. It’s because many of the adults in their lives are outright hostile to their existence and many more refuse to defend them. Adults bullying children.”

At an event in Miami on Monday night televised on Facebook, DeSantis discussed several hot-button issues like immigration, but also addressed the “Don’t Say Gay” bills. DeSantis said it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to discuss homosexuality or gender identity with students. DeSantis asserted that teachers were telling children, “Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet,” and were also “hiding” class lessons about homosexuality from parents.

DeSantis said, “Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write. They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics and understanding of the U.S. Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic stuff.” DeSantis has, however, previously come out in opposition of teaching about history and science, which he called “woke activism” on his official website.

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