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What’s next? An expanded ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and restrictions on ‘preferred’ pronouns for kids

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What’s next? An expanded ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and restrictions on ‘preferred’ pronouns for kids

Mar 01, 2023 | 6:19 pm ET
By Danielle J. Brown
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What’s next? An expanded ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and restrictions on ‘preferred’ pronouns for kids
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LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers speak out against HB 1557. March 7, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

As the 2023 legislative session looms, GOP lawmakers are looking to expand the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida that earned national notoriety last year and restrict the use of “pronouns” for students and school employees.

The LGBTQ community and civil rights advocates have already sounded the alarms over potential discrimination, censorship and cruelty that may come to LGBTQ+ students, families and teachers, should the bill become law.

What does it all mean?

HB 1223, filed on Tuesday, would completely prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation all the way from PreK up to 8th grade. That’s an expansion often the current prohibitions banning on LGBTQ+ instruction from kindergarten through 3rd grade as well as limitations for older grades. Also, the new bill explicitly states that the measure applies to Florida’s nontraditional charter schools.

The Senate filed a similar bill, SB 1320, Wednesday. The Don’t Say Gay moniker refers to 2022 legislation formally titled Parental Rights In Education.

Kara Gross, the legislative director at the ACLU of Florida said that the new expanded bill this session would do even more harm and damage to Floridians than its predecessor.

“It expands the cruelty and censorship of students and teachers throughout those grades,” Gross said in a virtual press conference Wednesday.

In addition, the new bill includes restrictions on how kids can be addressed by personnel, related to “preferred” pronouns.

“It prevents employees from referring to students by their preferred pronouns, even if their parents want them to,” Gross added. “So, I want to be clear that this has nothing to do with parents’ rights.”

Equality Florida, a statewide advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Floridians, says HB 1223 “doubles down on a vague and discriminatory law.”

According to the group’s press release from Tuesday:

“This legislation is about a fake moral panic, cooked up by Governor DeSantis to demonize LGBTQ people for his own political career,” said Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for Equality Florida. “Governor DeSantis and the lawmakers following him are hellbent on policing language, curriculum, and culture. Free states don’t ban books or people.”

HB 1223, for the upcoming 2023 legislative session, is formally titled “Public PreK-12 Educational Institution and Instruction Requirements.”

It is sponsored by Rep. Adam Anderson, a Republican who represents part of Pinellas County in the Tampa Bay area.

The Senate version, formally titled “Child Protection in Public Schools” is sponsored by State Sen. Clay Yarborough. He is a Republican who represents Nassau County and part of Duval County.

What’s next? An expanded ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and restrictions on ‘preferred’ pronouns for kids
Students protesting at the Florida Capitol. March 3, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

For Florida, most middle schools encompass grades 6 to 8. Students tend to start 6th grade at age 11 or 12 and exit 8th grade at about 14.

According to a report from the William’s Institute out of UCLA in 2020, there was an estimated 114,000 children aged 13-17 who identified as LGBTQ in the state of Florida. The report did not include students who were younger than 13, but that data includes some middle-school aged students.

In addition, HB 1223 would change how LGBTQ+ topics can be addressed in high school settings.

Current law under the “Don’t Say Gay” statute says that LGBTQ+ topics should not be taught “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Now, the 2023 bill says that: “If such instruction is provided in grades 9 through 12, the instruction must be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

HB 1223 also adds language to make clear that restrictions on classroom discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation absolutely would apply to Florida’s public charter schools. The Phoenix previously reported that the term “charter school” did not appear in the 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” law, so it was unclear if charter schools were exempt from the prohibition of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms.

Though charter schools are public, they are privately operated and have more freedom and flexibility in certain areas of academics and school operations.

Restrictions on pronouns

Other parts of the HB 1223 and SB 1320 for the 2023 legislative session targets inclusive name and pronoun policies typically associated with accommodating transgender students or employees.

First, the bill defines “sex” as “the binary division of individuals based upon reproductive function,” in the state’s education code for all public K-12 institutions.

From the bill:

“It shall be the policy of every public K-12 educational institution that is provided or authorized by the Constitution and laws of Florida that a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.”

Further restrictions include:

/An employee cannot ask a student their pronouns or their personal title;

/Employees and students are not required to use the pronouns of a person “if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to that person’s sex” as defined in HB 1223.

/An employee cannot use the personal title or pronoun of a student or employee if it does not correspond with their sex, as defined in HB 1223.

The bill includes words such as “his,” and “her.”

The State Board of Education is also tasked with creating rules to implement the above restrictions, meaning that the DeSantis-appointed board might impose further restriction than what the bill requires should it become law.

As for the Senate version, SB 1320, the legislation would create the same restrictions as HB 1223, but also adds language on how books are challenged in classroom libraries, which critics such as Equality Florida fear would lead to more books on LGBTQ+ topics removed from Florida classrooms, among other concerns.

During the 2022 session, the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation caused an uproar among the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

In March 2022, the Capitol building located in Tallahassee was filled with high schoolers who skipped school in order to protest the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, who shouted their disdain for the bill and chanted the phrase ‘F— DeSantis.’

Equality Florida added in the press release from Tuesday: “Banning school districts from acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade is detrimental to LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents. Additionally, the law would forbid use of pronouns that align with transgender students’ gender identity up through twelfth grade, depriving parents of the right to ensure that their children are protected and respected in their identity.”