In a campaign email to supporters this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick promised to recreate Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill during the next Texas legislative session.
“I will make this law a top priority in the next session,” Patrick said of the 88th regular session, set to begin Jan 10, 2023.
The Florida bill Patrick plans to copy prevents public school teachers from teaching about sexual orientation or gender idenity in kindergarten through third grade, or according to the bill, “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” — a vague sentence opponents fear would prevent public school teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender idenity across all grade levels. At a Feb. 17 hearing, Florida House bill sponsor Rep. Joe Harding said that could happen.
The bill also allows for parents to sue to seek injunctive relief or prevent any instruction they believe is in violation of the law. In a bounty-hunting system similar to Texas’ SB 8, parents would be compensated and awarded for “damages” and attorney fees.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557 into law in late March, causing an uproar.
Days later, the law was quickly condemned and sued by LGBTQ advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality who argue that the law is an unlawful state-sponsored attempt to silence and erase LGBTQ people in Florida’s public schools.
“H.B. 1557 recruits every parent as a roving censor, armed with a legal warrant to sue schools for damages,” their lawsuit states, warning that the law would create, “a scheme in which parents can use the threat of litigation over vague statutory terms to menace school boards and intimidate teachers into offering a skewed, discriminatory curriculum.”
In a statement, Executive Director of Equality Florida Nadine Smith said the bill invokes hateful anti-LGBTQ stereotypes and panders to the governor’s right-wing base in order to energize them as he seeks the White House in 2024.
“DeSantis has damaged our state’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place for all families, he has made us a laughing stock and target of national derision,” Smith said. “Worse, he has made schools less safe for children.”
Democratic Florida LGBTQ Caucus Legislative Director Nathan Bruemmer said the bill will cause teachers to hide who they are or risk losing their job.
“We will lose more LGBTQ+ youth to suicide and hate crimes against LGBTQ+ Floridians will increase,” Bruemmer said. “These tragedies will be on DeSantis’ hands. Florida’s LGBTQ+ community is sending him a loud and clear message: we will not be erased, and we will fight his hate-filled attacks on us with everything we have.”
An annual state survey of Florida high school students found about a quarter of Flordian high school students identify as LGBTQ or are unsure of their sexual orientation. For the first time in 8 years, the same survey saw an increase in the number of LGBTQ youth who attempted suicide, according to Equality Florida.
A similar 2021 survey by the nonprofit LGBTQ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project found that 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. They also found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt.
The bill has already led to a steady stream of walkouts at Florida high schools and from students in other states facing similar legislation. At least 15 states besides Florida (and soon to be Texas) are pushing some version of the legislation, according to The Advocate.
The legislation has also made national headlines and received a response from President Biden on Twitter after it was signed into law. Companies like Disney and celebrities like Oscar Isaac and Ariana Grande have criticized the bill, which was a popular joke at the Oscars and is now even part of a New York City marketing campaign to convince Flordians to move to “the city where you can say whatever you want.”
Original photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons