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Florida Senate Bill Could Ban Books With LGBTQ+ Characters

State Sen. Joe Gruters
Sen. Joe Gruters via screengrab

Legislation introduced in the Florida Senate could empower homophobic parents to challenge the use of books with LGBTQ+ characters at public schools.

Florida's Senate Education Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would establish review procedures for instructional materials, with a requirement that school district superintendents certify to the state Department of Education that all teaching content aligns with state standards.

Opponents of the bill say it would empower anti-LGBTQ+ parents to challenge books featuring queer characters and topics in Florida public schools.

Members of the public alleged during the committee meeting that books and other material with LGBTQ+ representation will lead to gender confusion and traumatize children.

"We need to know what's going into our kids' brains," parent Jennifer Showalter said during the committee meeting.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and passed on a party-line vote. Gruters maintained the legislation will simply illuminate what content children get exposed to in school. "The purpose of this bill is about transparency," he said, "not to censor anything."

But clearly, many parents in favor of the bill arrived in Tallahassee fearful of school content that teaches students that LGBTQ+ people exist.

Karen Moran, speaking for the group Best SOS America, brought with her a copy of Theresa Thorn'sIt Feels Good to Be Yourself, a book about school-age children of varying gender identities. She read a section of the book on a nonbinary child and alleged the book would confuse children about their own gender identities. Moran even suggested the use of "they" pronouns would make students believe they are more than one person.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat and Florida's first out senator, dismissed that as nonsense.

"As a gay man, to sit here in committee, to hear that, there was no book that I read that brought me to who I am," he said. "And even your children. I don't care what you may try to do to think that you are protecting them. The one thing you are obligated to do, like my mother and my father did, is to love them for who they are."

Still, speakers asserted children would feel forced to turn queer based on the content. Attorney Brenda Fam of Fort Lauderdale shared a story about a child who saw a film in school with gay men and came home crying, fearful he would be forced to marry a man when he grew up. "The teacher said it's the law," Fam alleged. "This little boy has been traumatized."

Democratic senators pushed back at some accounts, calling out as lies any assertions that public schools were teaching classes on oral sex or requiring students to describe foreplay in sex education tests.

"There are no books on sex acts," said Sen. Tina Polsky. "Don't mistake health with pornography."

Jones stressed that the anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes expressed in the committee hearing would likely harm some children more than anything they read in school.

"I'm not going to speak about the politics of this because all of that is going to go out the window eventually. My ask is that as you all speak, just realize that there are individuals who hear you and might be in the shoe of someone who your words are hurtful towards," he said. "It's not me. I'm fine; I'm a grown man and can take care of myself."

The bill, if passed into law, would allow parents to object to materials to principals, then if they remain in libraries appeal that decision to school boards and ultimately the state Department of Education.

Of note, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the department under his watch have frequently undermined school boards' ability to set local policy, including trying to deny salaries to school board members and superintendents who supported requiring masks in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, a "don't say gay" bill passed Florida's House. That legislation would prohibit classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

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