A year ago, activists in Florida warned that given a chance, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the state would expand their draconian “don’t say gay” law forbidding discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms universally across the state. On Wednesday, Florida’s Board of Education did just that.
Moving forward, discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation is forbidden in Florida public schools entirely — through graduation in grade 12. This means that in Florida, 18-year-old adults could potentially have been shielded from LGBTQ+ people’s existence.
A few weeks ago, DeSantis proposed to the board the new rule that would only allow the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity to be discussed in fourth through 12th grade if it is part of the state curriculum or a health class that a student can choose not to participate in.
This proposal, adopted Wednesday by the board, was an extension of the current Florida law that bans the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity up to the third grade; a law passed last year made such discussions illegal. Another bill also expanding the law was introduced in the state's legislature this session.
The measure stated, “The amendment prohibits classroom instruction to students in pre-kindergarten through grade 3 on sexual orientation or gender identity. For grades 4 through 12, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited.”
“This policy will escalate the government censorship sweeping our state, exacerbate our educator exodus, drive hardworking families from Florida, and further stigmatize and isolate a population of young people who need our support now more than ever,” Equality Florida wrote on Twitter. “Shame on the DeSantis Administration for putting a target on the backs of LGBTQ Floridians.”
Equality Florida recently issued a historic travel alert to LGBTQ+ people, warning them that stepping into the state may be unsafe.
The organization's senior political director, Joe Saunders, said the expansion erases the freedom of Floridians.
“Let’s put it plainly: this is part of the Governor’s assault on freedom. Free states do not ban books. Free states do not censor entire communities out of the classroom. Free states do not wage war on LGBTQ+ people to score cheap political points for a man desperate to be President," Saunders said. "This policy will escalate the government censorship that is sweeping our state, exacerbate our educator exodus, drive hardworking families from Florida, and further stigmatize and isolate a population of young people who need our support now more than ever. Shame on the DeSantis Administration for putting a target on the backs of LGBTQ+ Floridians.”
Research conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida found that 49 percent of Floridians oppose the "don't say gay" law while only 40 percent support it.
National LGBTQ+ advocacy groups also condemned the decision. criticized the decision.
“The decision by the Florida Board of Education to extend curriculum bans through twelfth grade is disgraceful — and it will result in catastrophic consequences for Florida students and supportive educators. Curriculum bans deprive LGBTQ+ youth of the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the classroom and their non-LGBTQ+ peers from learning about LGBTQ+ communities,” Melanie Willingham-Jaggers of GLSEN said in a press release.
“Based on more than 20 years of research conducted by GLSEN, LGBTQ+ youth who attend schools with inclusive curriculum have higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging, are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, along with many other benefits that promote long-term wellbeing and achievement,” they continued. “We will continue to fight for positive representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ communities in all schools across the country and stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ youth in Florida.”
Teachers, advocates, parents, and children have said the current law is too vague. Some schools and educators have even stopped teaching anything related to LGBTQ+ topics for fear of being sued.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis also responded to the day's developments.
"This move unfortunately further cements Florida’s growing reputation as a state led by extremists obsessed with censorship, book bans and other targeting of LGBTQ people. 'Don't Say LGBTQ' has already had a disastrous chilling effect on Florida classrooms, now Florida wants to expand and encourage that silencing and harassment to all grades," she said.
"LGBTQ people, students, teachers and families are here to stay. They deserve safe places to learn and work. Florida deserves better than politicians who refuse to recognize that discrimination is bad for human beings, for business, and for their state’s future," Ellis added.
A procedural comment period will be held before the newly approved rule takes effect in one month.
Students from the group Walkout2Learn are organizing a student walkout on Friday, April 21. The students, parents, teachers, advocates, and community members who will be walking out will do so to show their anger at DeSantis' education policies which have targeted diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, African American studies, gender studies, and books.