FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - A law prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in younger grades has gone into effect in Florida, drawing concerns from opponents.
The Parental Rights in Education law drew controversy from the time two Republican state lawmakers introduced it. On Friday, it went into effect in classrooms statewide.
Orange County schoolteacher Ladara Royal said the law, known to opponents as “Don’t Say Gay,” potentially puts children at risk.
“This puts a limitation to how we can keep our students safe,” he said, “and not just physically safe, but mentally safe.
Back in March, a high school senior called Alex came to Tallahassee to argue against the legislation.
“They were talking about the suicide statistics. Well, not only is it statistics. I’m standing in front of you; I have attempted suicide four times,” said Alex.
Lawmakers opposed to “Don’t Say Gay” worry about its effects on children like Alex.
“It’s sending an ugly message that being LGBTQ is not OK,” said Florida State Sen. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
Supporters said the bill does not ban the word “gay.”
“Nowhere in our bill are we banning any discussion that a student could have relating to any different variation of families and how they can look” said Florida State Rep. Joe Harding, one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill.
“Let kids be kids. There’s an age appropriateness to the timeline by which we have instruction,” said former Florida State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr.
Much of the controversy revolves around the wording of the law.
“So you actually look at the bill, and it says, ‘no sexual instruction in grades pre-K through 3,” said DeSantis.
That’s not exactly what the law says. On page 4, it states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
Opponents said that’s the real issue, that the LGBTQ community is singled out.
“The intent of the bill was always to erase us,” said Brandon Wolf, a spokesperson with the civil rights organization Equality Florida.
Anna Fusco, the head of the Broward Teachers Union, is worried the law will foment a contentious relationship between parents and teachers where one never existed before.
“We’re going to have parents who are going to continue to feel that there’s something inappropriate going on in our schools,” she said, “which there never has been, there never will be. Our teachers are strictly in there to teach curriculum.”
“The narrative around it makes it seem like families and teachers are at each other’s throats,” said former teacher Anita Carson. “We’re not supposed to be at each other’s throats, and in reality, on the ground, we’re not.”
In a statement issued Friday, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats wrote, “As this malicious and cynical piece of legislation goes into effect today, it is important to remember that none of the educators in the state of Florida have ever taught about sexual orientation to any child in grades K-3. This law is gay baiting, pure and simple. The intent of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is clear: it is a focused attack on teachers and students who are LGBTQ.”
“Don’t Say Gay” is one of 145 new laws signed by DeSantis that went into effect on Friday.
Equality Florida has joined in with a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down the law. They claim the language on the bill is overly broad and subject to individual interpretation, and it is a grave abuse of power.
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