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Progressives are raising alarms amid Republican-backed bills to roll back teaching on race, history and LGBTQ issues

An illustration of a globe with fists punching it
Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media

Progressive groups are trying to slow the advancement of several bills that could severely limit discussions of race, sex, gender, and history in businesses and public-school classrooms. The measures reflect mostly-conservative backlash to social justice movements and LGBTQ rights and visibility. They’re part of Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to push back against the so-called “woke” agenda.

The biggest piece of legislation carrying the most impact is HB7/Senate Bill 148. Both are outgrowths of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to curb what he views as the so-called “woke” agenda. The bill bans certain methods of teaching like Critical Race Theory which supporters say could lead some people to feel bad about themselves. The bills dictate that businesses can’t require employees to take certain types of training, and says schools can’t teach history and other subjects in a way that might lead students and others to feel bad. Yet, history is fraught with issues that indeed do cause guilt—like slavery, and gender discrimination.

"I have sat, and sat for the last five years and wondered—I could have died for a country that doesn’t love me. That doesn’t want me to know about my history," said Ranka Milligan Ashcroft with the social justice group Dream Defenders.

Ashcroft stands at the intersection of several issues. She's a veteran. She's Black and she's a woman and a Lesbian.

Ashcroft has listened, as conservatives have lined up at legislative committee hearings to support bills like HB7. Some comments, like those during a recent hearing on a Senate bill that would give parents greater say over what school library books and classroom materials can be used, have been downright hurtful to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“We have porn, we have the critical race we have gender confusion in our schools…” said one woman with a parental rights group as she held up a book aimed at children to teach them about gender identity.

“I have a 6-7-year-old who came out to the car, got into her mother’s SUV…and said, ‘I don’t want to have to marry a man when I get big, and the mother was horrified," said another woman who said she is an attorney in South Florida.

When comments like that are spoken people like Ashcroft hear something that says, "you don't matter."

And she's critical of efforts that she believes are aimed at erasing Black history and gender issues from the classroom. An effect of silencing and erasing people like herself.

Nearly all of the people who’ve spoken for the proposals during public comment have been white. Something not lost on Democratic Rep. Kelli Skidmore of Boca Raton.

“Many of these folks are the ones who are like ‘not everyone gets a trophy at soccer. You have to earn it.' [Now] here they go saying ‘we can’t hurt any white persons’ feelings..' That’s not what this country is about.”  

Skidmore, Democrats, and other progressives see HB7 and other like-bills, as Republican efforts to cater to a small but vocal base of voters who are growing increasingly intolerant of progress being made by minority and other marginalized groups. Arguments in favor of the proposals often have a religious bent, which Skidmore says flies in the face who she believes God is.

“If you want to invoke the name of Jesus—Jesus ran into the leper colony. Jesus helped the prostitutes. Jesus made sure people were not stoned," Skidmore said.

The proposals said Skidmore—are the antithesis of what Jesus would do. And yet the bills continue to fly through committees, backed by Republicans who—even if they may privately express discomfort with the measures— continue to support them publicly. Democratic Lawmakers like Skidmore have repeatedly called out their Republican colleagues for backing bills they say foster hate, not hope.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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