The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Law Took Effect Today

Florida high school students protesting the Don't say gay law and children sitting in a classroom looking inspired.

Public schools in Florida have begun implementing new policies to limit discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in classes following the implementation of the state's Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the "don't say gay" law.

Instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation is forbidden in kindergarten through third grade. In addition, as a result of the law, such instruction cannot take place at any grade level in a manner the state considers neither "age-appropriate nor developmentally appropriate." 

Now teachers in the state are facing a new, perilous landscape.

For example, school officials around Orlando warned educators not to wear rainbow clothing, remove pictures of their same-sex spouses from their desks, and remove LGBTQ+ safe space stickers from classroom doors, said Clinton McCracken, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. 

The Orange County school district's legal department reminded teachers to be cautious when interacting with kindergarten through third-grade students about LGBTQ+ issues, said a statement from the teachers association.

Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida, told reporters this morning that some messages officials conveyed to teachers are absurd. 

"They should avoid talking about their families altogether so as not to run afoul of the law," he says officials told them. 

The Leon County School Board unanimously approved its "LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide" after an extended debate on Tuesday night, the Tallahassee Democrat reports

The document includes a provision requiring parents to be notified if their child participates in physical education or goes on an overnight school trip with a person who is "open about their gender identity," 

"Upon notification or determination of a student who is open about their gender identity, parents of the affected students will be notified of reasonable accommodation options available," according to the policy. 

"Parents or students who have concerns about rooming assignments for their student's upcoming overnight event based on religious or privacy concerns may request an accommodation," it goes on.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Florida's first gay Latino legislator and an outspoken critic of the legislation, said it will result in a shortage of teachers.

The state already needs at least 9,000 educators, and smears against LGBTQ+ teachers will contribute to the shortage, he said.

"They are saying that our teachers [whom] people love are grooming children [and] that our teachers are sexualizing them," Smith said. 

He believes the Republican narrative around teachers has prompted people to abandon the profession. They're "all baseless accusations that have absolutely zero merits and are having a demoralizing effect  on our teachers," he added.

Last month, the School District of Palm Beach County emailed teachers, asking them to review course material and flag any books that mention sexual orientation, gender identity, or race, Michael Woods, a special education teacher at a Palm Beach County high school, told NBC News.

In addition to the restrictions on instruction, the law requires school staff to inform parents about "critical decisions" that affect a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being, which many have interpreted as an attempt to out gay or trans students. Teachers are exempt from disclosing this information about children who they believe they might be abused, neglected, or abandoned.

In a press conference with her daughter, Jaime Jara told reporters that Dempsey Jara, 10, transitioned socially between kindergarten and first grade five years ago. According to the high school history teacher, the law pertains to kids the same age as Dempsey when she transitioned.

Aside from harming children like her daughter, she is concerned that the law will force her to omit her child from her public life. "Do I have to take Dempsey's picture down?" the educator asked.

With all of the controversy surrounding her, Dempsey says she has trouble attending school.

"I don't feel safe in school with all these things passing," she said. "It affects me, my school, and my family so much even though I did nothing to the school or [against] anybody passing these bills, so I just want it to stop."

Legislators who support this bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in March, say it is intended to give parents more control over the education of their young children. 

Opponents cite the law's broad language as a potential source of lawsuits by parents who feel their children should not learn about LGBTQ+ issues and people. Parents can sue school districts if they believe they are violating the law.

Florida educator Anita Carson resigned this year from her position teaching sixth-grade science after 12 years.  

As she sees it, teachers and parents have a sacred partnership, and the law isn't necessary since, contrary to what politicians would like their supporters to believe, there is no ongoing war between educators and parents.

She says there is no truth to the narrative that teachers are trying to indoctrinate students and harm the students for whom they care dearly.

"We partner with families," Carson said. "That's the most important piece of being an educator."

Politicians' hostility toward teachers and the inability to engage her students in open dialogue made her position untenable, and she resigned.

Democratic activists and childhood development experts argue that DeSantis's actions are motivated by political opportunism, despite his claims that Florida is at the forefront of freedom. To build outrage and inspire their base to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, Republicans are attacking LGBTQ+ youth, they say.

Several states have recently proposed versions of Florida's law.  Alabama and South Dakota join the Sunshine State in having passed restrictive curriculum laws, according to Human Rights Campaign, which tracks these anti-LGBTQ+ measures.

Some states have older laws that ban or restrict the discussion of gay sex in sex education classes.

Javier Gomez, a student from south Florida who spoke at President Joe Biden's White House Pride Month reception in June, explains Republican hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community in one way.

"It's a lot of political power, and queer youth are being used as political pawns," he said.

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