The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which would allow parents to sue schools that “encourage” discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, passed the Florida House 69-47 on Thursday, with seven Republicans joining the chamber’s 40 Democrats in opposing the bill. It now heads to the Florida Senate.Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who’s the only Latino LGBTQ+ person to ever serve in the Florida legislature, condemned the bill in his remarks Thursday. “[The bill] sends a terrible message to our youth, that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction,” Smith said.
“I want to make sure that for those LGBTQ youth in Florida and around the country and in the world who are watching, I want to make sure that they know this: You are loved, you are supported, and we will wake up every single day to fight for you because you are worth fighting for,” Smith said.Earlier in the week, a Republican legislator withdrew an even more egregious amendment that would have forced teachers to out students to their parents within six weeks of finding out the child is queer.State Rep. Joe Harding on Friday proposed an amendment to the “Parental Rights in Education” bill that would have struck language permitting schools to withhold a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity from parents “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”
The amendment would have added language to force school principals to “develop a plan” in order “to disclose” the student's sexual orientation or gender identity “within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.” But on Tuesday, just before the Florida House was set to debate the full bill, Harding withdrew the amendment, according to legislative records. Harding’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why he withdrew the amendment. State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, told VICE News that the rest of the bill—which remains intact—shows that Harding and supporters of the bill “are willing to take a disgusting unfettered attack on LGBTQ+ youth.”
The bill as it exists now stipulates that schools “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Harding told CNN last month that the bill would apply to kindergarten through third-grade students.The bill is just one in a trend of state-level legislation targeting LGBTQ youth, including laws passed in 10 different states banning trans girls from participating in girls’ sports. (Three of those bills also ban trans boys from playing boys’ sports, according to Sports Illustrated.) Earlier this month, the White House slammed Harding’s proposal. “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,” President Joe Biden said in a tweet. “I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
Harding said in a video at the time—before he introduced an amendment that would have required schools to out students—that he wanted “all kids to feel safe at school, but that also has nothing to do with this bill,” and accused the Biden administration of “distorting the facts” and “spreading fear.”
Eskamani suggested in a tweet that by pulling the amendment, Republicans are either “trying to look moderate or something worse is coming.”
“I can only assume that in response to public pressure this gross amendment was withdrawn but there are many steps left in the legislative process—meaning this amendment could come back,” Eskamani told VICE News. “And the bill, even without it, is still dangerous.”This story was updated after the bill passed the Florida House.Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.