Florida Republican withdraws ‘Don’t Say Gay’ amendment that would forcibly out students

Widely criticised legislation proposes banning classroom discussion about ‘sexual orientation and gender’

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 22 February 2022 19:38 GMT
Pete Buttigieg says Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will drive up suicides

A Republican legislator in Florida has withdrawn an amendment to his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would require schools to disclose whether a child is LGBT+ to their parents within six weeks of learning whether they are not straight, and appeared to remove protections for students who would have potentially been subject to abuse, abandonment or neglect by their families.

State Rep Joe Harding proposed the amendment on Friday and removed it as state legislators prepared to debate House Bill 1557 on Tuesday, amid international outrage and warnings from LGBT+ advocates that the legislation could endanger vulnerable children.

The widely criticised legislation proposes prohibiting schools from encouraging “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”.

The bill passed a Florida state legislative committee on 20 January.

A previous draft of the bill granted protections to students who shared personal information with school staff, which could include whether they are LGBT+, if “a reasonably prudent person would believe that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect”.

Under the new amendment, which has now been withdrawn, “the school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within [six] weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.”

The full Florida House continues a question and answer session on 22 February, and a floor vote on the measure is expected on 24 February.

The bill is among more than a dozen state-level proposals to ban discussion of LGBT+ issues in classrooms, and among 150 state legislative proposals that discriminate against LGBT+ people, according to the ACLU.

Florida LGBT+ advocacy group Equality Florida alleges that the legislation is “meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom.”

“The existence of LGBTQ students and parents is not a taboo topic that has to be regulated by the Florida Legislature,” the group said in a statement last month.

A group of congressional Democrats have urged Florida legislators to drop the bill, warning that the legislation fits into an “alarming trend” of threats to academic freedom that exploits LGBT+ children for political discourse.

“We ask that you consider the harmful toll this legislation would have on LGBTQ+ children’s mental health and individual liberties in education, oppose these bills, and do not bring them to a vote on the floor of the Florida House or Senate,” they wrote.

Florida Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that “those who are now considering whether to vote for this hate-driven bill must reckon with an all-but-certain reality: If this ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill becomes law, its isolating impacts will ensure that even more vulnerable LGBTQ+ children will suffer, and some will die.”

A 2021 report from LGBT+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group The Trevor Project found that LGBT+ young people who learned about LGBT+ people or issues in school were 23 per cent less likely to report a suicide attempt within the last year.

Another report from the organisation found that LGBT+ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider, plan or attempt suicide than their peers, while LGBT+ young people between the ages of 13 and 24 attempt to kill themselves every 45 seconds within the US.

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