TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (WSVN) - Dozens of local students who oppose a state bill that would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida’s primary schools are heading to Tallahassee from Miami-Dade County as the controversial legislation inches closer to becoming law.
7News cameras captured the group at a rally held in front of the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami before their departure by bus to the state capital, Sunday night.
“We say gay! We say gay!” demonstrators chanted.
Critics of the bill call it the “Dont Say Gay” bill.
“The bill prohibits classroom instruction on a group of people, which includes gay people,” said Florida State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
Supporters call it by its official name, Parental Rights in Education. It passed the Florida House in a 69-47 vote on Feb. 24.
The bill will next head to the Senate for a final vote. If it passes, it will be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava was on hand at the rally in downtown Miami to greet demonstrators.
“It’s shameful what’s going on in Tallahassee. So many ways that hey are trying to take away our rights, our human rights,” she said, “and these young people are getting on a bus and riding all night to tell them, ‘Enough is enough.'”
Lawmakers who support the bill said it doesn’t ban the word “gay.”
“Nowhere on our bill are we banning any discussion that a student could have relating to any variation of families and how they can look,” said Florida State Rep. Joe Harding.
Since its introduction by Harding and a Republican state senator, controversy has surrounded the wording of the proposed law.
“You actually look at the bill, and it says, ‘No sexual instruction in pre-K through [third grade],” said DeSantis.
But that’s not exactly what the bill says.
On page 4, it says, “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 this is the real issue: that the LGBTQ community is singled out.
“This bill does not put any restrictions on classroom instruction or sex ed or sexual activity. Instead, it censors classroom instruction or discussion about a group of people,” said Smith.
But proponents said the parental rights aim of the bill is key. The bill would also set up new rules when it comes to health care, health screenings and questionnaires given to children, and allows parents to sue if they feel the school violated their rights.
“We believe that the best environment for a student is an environment where the parent is empowered and involved and working concurrently with the school district,” said Harding.
The debate became even more contentious over the weekend, when DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw tweeted, “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an anti-grooming bill.”
In a tweet responding to Pushaw’s comments, Smith wrote, “DeSantis’ spokesperson openly accused opponents of ‘Don’t Say Gay ‘of being groomers, aka pedophiles. Bigoted attacks like this against LGBTQ people are the worst of the worst. They’re disgusting and dangerous and have no place in the governor’s office.”
Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones from Miami Gardens, who represents the state’s 35th District, has also voiced disapproval of Pushaw’s tweet.
Florida state senators on Monday will be hearing questions on the floor about the bill and are expected to vote on it on Tuesday. It appears that the legislation has enough support from senators to pass.
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