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Days after clearing the House, Senate readies LGBTQ instruction bill for a floor vote

Carlos Guillermo Smith
Sarah Mueller
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks during a protest against HB 1557 (February 15, 2022) which would curb the teaching of gender and sexual identity in grades K-3.

Just days after clearing a pivotal house vote, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed its first and only Senate committee stop Monday. Now it heads to the Senate floor, but at least one of the chamber’s Republicans isn’t on board.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes offered an amendment that would have removed gender identity or sexual orientation from the bill and would have banned teaching human sexuality or sexual activity in grades Kindergarten through 3rd instead, but his GOP colleagues voted it down.

“We have the opportunity to soften this, to accomplish both goals. To ensure that these conversations are had at home and also to not impact our neighbors in the way that today you’ve seen them impacted.”

Brandes says the bill’s current language pits some religious community members against the LGBTQ community.

The bill bans instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation in grades Kindergarten through 3rd. It mandates that discussion in other grade levels be “age-appropriate.” The state Department of Education would develop the state standards to define that and parents could sue school districts or seek a resolution through a special magistrate.

Supporters say it’s a parental rights issue that expands on the Parent’s Bill of Rights law passed last year. But critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay,” bill and accuse the sponsors of trying to purge conversations about LGBTQ people.

Orlando Democrat and openly gay Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith attempted to testify before the Senate Committee but the chamber’s Appropriations Committee Chair Kelli Stargel shut him down. Stargel says he had a chance to comment on the legislation when it was voted on in the House last week.

“In a hearing about a bill that is censoring discussion about LGBTQ Floridians, the chair of the committee directly censors a LGBTQ Floridian. Me.," he said.

Stargel says the bill has been misrepresented. She said she’s been contacted by parents like January Littlejohn, a Leon County parent who said her child was allowed to use non-binary pronouns at a district middle school without the school informing her. The Littlejohns informed the school that their child was experiencing gender identity issues. Now, the district is facing a federal lawsuit and Stargel said parents deserve to know about the issues their children may be facing in school.

“All we’re asking is if a conversation is occurring at the school with regard to my child on these issues, that I’m part of these conversations as the parent," Stargel said.

If this legislation were to become law, requests by students to use different names or pronouns at school would require parental notification regardless of the student’s wishes.

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.