Florida's controversial "Parental Rights in Education" bill, which has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents, was signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Supporters of the bill say it’s meant to give parents more say in their child’s education. It also limits what classrooms can teach regarding gender identity and sexual orientation in certain grades.
What is the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill actually called?
The controversial bill now officially law in Florida is actually called “The Parental Rights in Education." It made its way through Florida’s legislature earlier this year, and soon it will make its way through public schools. Florida politicians have very different thoughts on the very same bill. One of the bill’s authors, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, told NBCLX it was about giving power back to parents when it comes to their child’s school, at the same time removing classroom instruction on topics like gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade.
“This is not a place to be doing social engineering or culture warring or whatever you want to call it. At the end of the day, it’s just parents trying to make sure their kid’s get skills to succeed in life. …For me it’s very appealing by its title. It is truly about the authority of parents and parental rights — how they are exercised in relationship to schools, and I think we’re seeing this tested across the country.”
Florida House Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith told NBCLX he is concerned about the language of removing classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation, and what it means to the LGBTQ community.
“They are sending a message that there’s something dangerous, so dangerous about LGBTQ people that the topic of sexual orientation or gender identity must be prohibited in the classroom specifically for grades K through three," he said. "There are a lot of folks who are out there who don’t believe any classroom discussion about LGBTQ people in any grade is age appropriate, and this bill empowers those individuals.”
What does the text of the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill say?
The bill went through many evolutions on its way to the governor's desk, but some key components include:
- "Prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information.”
- “Prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”
- “Prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.”
NBCLX spoke to two Florida moms to see how they feel about the new law. Mom of three January Littlejohn said she's "a personal example of why this bill is necessary."
"In 2020, my daughter’s middle school met with our daughter behind closed doors with three school officials and developed a transgender, gender non-conforming support plan. … We were not notified of the meeting or invited to the meeting, and I was told by the guidance counselor and vice principal on a phone call that I could not be given any information regarding the meeting because my daughter was now protected under a non-discrimination law.”
Littlejohn is currently suing her child's school over this issue. Leon County Schools told NBCLX in a statement: "From the moment Mrs. Littlejohn first emailed her child's teacher to inform our staff of the situation, this has been handled together in partnership with clear communication. ... The family clearly instructed the school staff via email to allow their child to 'take the lead on this' and do 'whatever you think is best.'" The school added that it is "committed to amend any vague or unclear policy language."
Jennifer Solomon, a mother of four, has a son, Cooper, who identifies as male, but his gender expression is female. She has dedicated much of her time to educating not only her friends and community on this issue, but Cooper’s school, as well.
“The only people that think this is a good idea are our legislators, and my fear is what’s going happen to our kids in our schools," she said. "If our children are not going to be able to live as their authentic selves in schools where they need to feel safe in order to learn, this is really going take a huge toll on the children in the state of Florida unnecessarily. ... This is absolutely discrimination and hate. This is not about parental rights. What parents? The parents that Ron DeSantis thinks are important, or all parents?”
"Personally, I want my kids to learn about anything with these subjects from a trusted adult with an approved curriculum rather than from the internet."