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Tallahassee residents join the push against the 'Don't Say Gay' bill as it heads for the House floor

A young woman with a red shirt and dark jacket stands holding a microphone. Many people stand behind her holding signs that read things like "protect trans kids" and "won't be erased."
Sarah Mueller
WFSU Public Media
Leon County High School student Kaylee Sandell says she's worried the bill will make LGBTQ students "feel like no one is going to accept them."
“What is my child supposed to say when it’s time to talk about families in class and he isn’t allowed to mention what the structure of his family looks like?"
Tallahassee resident Carrie Gaudio

A bill that limits LGBTQ lesson plans and requires school officials to notify parents if their children share information about their gender identity or sexual orientation is scheduled for a discussion on the House floor Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers are alarmed about a proposed amendment filed by bill sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston) that requires school staff to notify parents within six weeks of the child’s disclosure even if officials think the student would face abuse, abandonment or neglect as a result.

Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) calls the amendment “devastating.”

“To have a state-mandated outing of LGBTQ+ students, specifically in cases of abuse, abandonment and neglect is inappropriate and it trumps any type of claims around what the bill sponsor is trying to accomplish,” she says.

Harding says parents have the right to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children and should be informed of changes to their well-being in a judgment-free environment that protects students.

The bill also prohibits LGBTQ lesson plans for younger students and requires such lessons for older students be tied to state standards.

That’s a concern for bill critics like Tallahassee resident and mother Carrie Gaudio. She worries the measure would ban conversations about students at all grade levels who are LGBTQ, or who have family members who are.

“What is my child supposed to say when it’s time to talk about families in class and he isn’t allowed to mention what the structure of his family looks like," she says asks.

The current bill language bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity for primary school students. Such lessons for older students must be age appropriate. The definition of what’s age-appropriate would tie to state standards that the Department of Education would develop.

Karin Brewster is a sociology professor at Florida State University who studies sexual and reproductive health. She says children first become aware of gender around the age of two. She also says there’s no age where it’s inappropriate for a child to learn that another child has same-sex parents or LGBTQ members of their family. She worries the bill could lead to a child feeling a sense of shame.

“By saying ‘Oh we can’t mention this in school,’ you’re saying to the kid with two moms that they shouldn’t be talking about that," she says.

That’s a concern for Leon County High School sophomore Kaylee Sandell too. She spoke out against the bill at the Capitol. She says she wants to protect the rights of students like her.

“They’re going to feel like no one is going to accept them, they’re going to feel there’s something wrong with them, they’re going to feel like they’re not supposed to be here when they should be here," she said. "They’re still human, they’re still children.”

Harding, who declined to answer questions on the bill after his measure passed in a recent committee, says the bill is intended to inform parents about their children’s health at school and he says children as young as six years old should not learn about gender identity or sexual orientation until later in life.

“Within our state standards, typically discussion on sex or all the different things, whether it’s anatomy or what that whole picture looks like typically starts in fourth or fifth grade,” he says.

Several members of the public also testified in support of the legislation, saying parents had the right to know if their child was having feelings related to their gender identity or sexual orientation and that primary school age was too young to learn about LGBTQ ideas.

The Senate companion bill has two committee stops before it reaches a floor vote in that chamber.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.