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Fla. OK's Sweeping Anti-LGBTQ+ Rules in Schools After 'Don't Say Gay'

Equality Florida supporters
Image courtesy Equality Florida

One rule requires public notification about restroom access for transgender students, while another threatens teacher's licenses under the "don't say gay" law.

The Florida Board of Education Wednesday adopted rules on restroom use and teacher licensing over the objections of many LGBTQ+ rights advocates.

One rule requires public and charter schools to notify parents by mail and also post online if they allow students to use restrooms and changing rooms "according to some criteria other than biological sex at birth."

This is an "attempt to bully and intimidate districts" that accommodate transgender students, Joe Saunders, senior political director at Equality Florida, said in a press release.

"The Board of Education's facilities separation rule does not and cannot prevent transgender students from accessing facilities aligned with their gender identity -- we know federal law and the constitution protect these rights," Saunders said. "Florida school districts have been following federal law for more than a decade, establishing policies we know will continue to work long after this politically motivated proposed rule. What it does do is attempt to bully and intimidate districts that are providing these accommodations. [Gov.] Ron DeSantis's war on transgender Floridians must end. All students deserve access to school facilities that are inclusive and safe."

At the meeting in Orlando where the rules were voted on, Nikole Parker, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida, said the restroom rule "is designed to intimidate school districts from following federal guidance, making schools less safe and adding fuel to a politically motivated crusade against LGBTQ youth and their families," Orlando Weekly reports. About 100 people attended the meeting to speak out for LGBTQ+ rights, and more than 1,000 sent messages to board members in support of teachers, families, and LGBTQ students.

Manny Diaz Jr., the recently appointed Florida education commissioner, has been a critic of the Biden administration's guidance calling for accommodation of transgender youth in public schools and has directed Florida districts to ignore it.

Another rule approved Wednesday enforces part of the state's infamous "don't say gay" law, which Diaz sponsored when he was a state senator. Under this rule, teachers' licenses can be suspended or revoked if they are found to have been teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3, something prohibited under the law, which was enacted this year.

"Teachers shouldn't be punished or silenced for acknowledging and valuing every family," Rin Alajaji, a public policy associate with Equality Florida, said at the meeting, according to Orlando Weekly. "This board is putting careers of educators in jeopardy and intensifying the harmful and chilling effects that the 'don't say LGBTQ' law has already had in providing safe, inclusive, and welcoming schools."

"The Board of Education's move to target individual teachers' jobs and licenses is another cruel attack from an administration that has spent months punching down at Florida's LGBTQ youth and families," Saunders added in the press release. "Qualified, effective teachers are fleeing the profession in Florida thanks to the constant politicization of their roles and discrediting of their characters by the DeSantis administration. Rather than help to clarify the 'don't say LGBTQ' law's scope, the Board of Education has taken this bigoted law to yet another extreme, threatening teachers if they dare to acknowledge LGBTQ families in the classroom. This escalation in deference to the far-right agenda of the governor makes our schools less inclusive -- and less safe."

The rule also directly contradicts an interpretation of the law by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor when he dismissed a lawsuit against it this year, Equality Florida points out. "The law is enforced against school districts -- not individual teachers," Winsor wrote.

There have been numerous other attacks on LGBTQ+ rights in Florida this year, the group notes. The state recently ended Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care, and the Florida Board of Medicine is going through a rulemaking process that could threaten the licenses of medical professionals who provide this care to young people. DeSantis has also threatened the liquor license of a bar that hosted a drag brunch, and the state is considering legislation to strip parental rights from people who take their children to drag shows.

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