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Florida's controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill passes Senate, heads to DeSantis' desk

The bill, officially "Parental Rights in Education," bars the teaching of LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A controversial Florida bill that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, upsetting gay rights supporters, is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Lawmakers passed HB 1557, officially called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, by a 22-17 vote Tuesday. Opponents dubbed it “Don’t Say Gay” because it bars educators from teaching LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.

DeSantis signaled his support for the bill but has not indicated whether he will sign it into law.

Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jennifer Bradley, R-Orange Park, joined Democrats in voting against the bill.

The bill allows for the discussion of LGBTQ topics should they spontaneously come up in the classroom, said Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the House’s version of the bill, in an earlier committee meeting.

School districts may opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.

The bill prohibits schools, “from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”

According to legislative analysis of the bill, "multiple school districts in Florida maintain policies that exclude parents from discussions and decisions on sensitive topics relating to students." It also gives parents the right to pursue legal options if they believe a school’s procedures are infringing on their “fundamental right…to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.”

But the clause that has garnered the most attention pertains to restrictions on LGBTQ-related instruction. President Joe Biden condemned an earlier version of the bill, tweeting, “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.” 

As lawmakers debated the bill on Monday, Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, made an emotional plea to his colleagues, encouraging them to not pass a bill that hurts people. Jones spoke about his own experience of coming out as gay.

“I'm proud to serve with each and every one of you, open your hearts a tad bit, don't think about whether you can get reelected or not,” Jones said.  

Despite repeated denials the bill singles out LGBTQ individuals, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, admitted as much on the Senate floor Monday evening, saying the bill was a product of his own personal concerns with so many children today coming out as gay – something he suggested was part of a trend to get popular.

“We are in a trending posture right now,” said Baxley, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. “There really is a dynamic of concern of how much of this are genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities.”

Baxley went on to say, “There’s something wrong with how we’re emphasizing this, and how, all of a sudden, overnight they’re a celebrity when they felt like they were nobody… I know parents are very concerned about the departure from the core believe systems and values.”

The bill does not give schools the ability to “out” LGBTQ students who confide in staff about their sexual orientation or identity, but schools are required to notify parents about any change to their child's “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” There are exceptions of there are concerns disclosing that information could result in abuse or neglect.

Schools also are not required to inform parents if another student in their child’s class is gay.

RELATED: VERIFY fact sheet: Florida's 'don't say gay' bill, explained

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