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‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Passes Fla. Senate, Heads to Governor's Desk

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The Senate voted 22-17 for the bill.

The Florida legislature has passed the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill and sent it to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign.

The Florida Senate on Tuesday morning voted 22-17 in favor of the bill. Republicans Jeffrey Brandes and Jennifer Bradley joined Democratic senators in voting against it.

Tuesday's vote came after the Senate rejected a series of amendments offered Monday. Republican leadership made clear no amendments softening the language in the law would be considered because the chamber wanted to send the bill directly to DeSantis.

The legislation prohibits instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and places a vague requirement of "age-appropriate" instruction in all grade levels.

Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley argued the bill will only increase parental involvement in children's schooling. He was asked on the floor on Tuesday to provide a concrete example of instruction running afoul of his proposal taking place in K-3 education in Florida and he could not. Sen. Manny Diaz, a Republican supporting the bill, did point to some school districts with guidance about discussing gender roles and identity with second graders.

On the Senate floor Monday, Baxley expressed concern about the rise in the number of students coming out as LGBTQ+ while still in school. He discussed the subject recently with his son, a psychologist.

"Why is everybody now all about coming out when you are in school?" he said. "There really is a dynamic of concern about how much of this are genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities and experimenting.

"That's what kids do, you know. Maybe they're in this club or they're in that club or they're onto this. And they're trying on these different identities of life trying to see where they fit in. I said am I crazy or what? All of the sudden we're having all these issues come up about this topic of their sexuality and gender. I don't understand why that's such a big wave right now."

Baxley said many are trying to find some outside explanation for the number of children coming out at earlier ages. "Some of it is I'm sure cultural shift of what's accepted and that kind of thing. But I know some of it is just the confusion kids go through, particularly when you go to middle school and high school," he said.

Senate amendments from Democrats and one Republican, the libertarian-leaning Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, tried to change the bill in a number of ways, including focusing on actual sexual content, which isn't covered in the bill at all.

Over the weekend, Gov. DeSantis's press secretary received significant criticism for calling the legislation an anti-grooming bill. "If you're against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don't denounce the grooming of 4-8-year-old children," she posted on Twitter. "Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn't make the rules."

Baxley made clear during Senate debate on Monday that the legislation had nothing to do with grooming, a term for the preparation of children to be sexual partners to adults.

During closing arguments on Tuesday, Sen. Linda Stewart, who is from Orlando, cited the Pulse nightclub shooting as a part of Florida history that cannot be discussed in class under the bill. That hurts "a community which has been discriminated against as long as probably any of us have lived on this earth."

She also expressed concern about the bill potentially opening schools to lawsuits because it creates a cause of action from individuals if teachers allegedly run astray of the law.

Sen. Ileana Garcia, a Republican from Miami, shared several accounts about LGBTQ+ people in her life. Over several minutes, she potentially misgendered several loved ones and shared disinformation about topics of gender identity.

She spoke first of a transgender "very good friend of mine."

"Went through the whole transition as an older man, at 58 years old, became a woman. Guess what? He still likes women," she said. "He went through the whole process. And we'd laugh together and I'd say, 'Why do you want to deal with the hormones? Why do you want to have to worry about the extension? Isn't there hair and the boobs and the nails?' And he loved it. And when he went through the transition and had an experience, a sexual experience. With all due respect, there were children, and I say this with respect, you realize that he continued to like women."

The words seemed to answer that she understood the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity after the bill's sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley described sexual orientation as being "male or female." But while she didn't exhibit Baxley's confusion, she still got plenty wrong on the floor. She generate online uproar in suggesting being LGBTQ+ was a choice.

"I'm telling you is that it's not permanent. This isn't a permanent thing," she said. "It's not a bad thing, either. It's ... life is a journey. It's a transition. It's a decision."

For much of the past week the Florida Capitol has been filled with students from around Florida protesting against the law.

In the chamber, Sen. Shevrin Jones, Florida's first out senator, shared his personal story of not coming out until adulthood. He praised the students for expressing their own identities at a much younger age. "I don't think y'all understand how much courage it takes to show up every day," Jones said Monday.

"Let us be clear: should its vague language be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family, we will lead legal action against the State of Florida to challenge this bigoted legislation. We will not sit by and allow the governor's office to call us pedophiles. We will not allow this bill to harm LGBTQ Floridians. We will not permit any school to enforce this in a way that endangers the safety of children. We stand ready to fight for Floridians in court and hold lawmakers who supported this bill accountable at the ballot box," LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Florida said in a statement.

In response to the Senate passing the bill on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called out those who voted for it.

"Parents across the country are looking to national, state, and district leaders to support our nation's students, help them recover from the pandemic, and provide them the academic and mental health supports they need," he said in a statement. "Instead, leaders in Florida are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need. The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX's protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

He added, "We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported."

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