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Florida is adding restrictions to pronoun use in schools and expanding book challenges

A protestor holding a LGBTQ+ sign at the student-led protest at the Florida Capital.
Anna Jones
WFSU Public Media
A protestor holding a LGBTQ+ sign at the student-led protest at the Florida Capital.

Over the objections of Democrats Florida’s Republican-led legislature is expanding the state’s parental rights laws to allow them greater say over school library books and classroom materials. The proposal also places more restrictions on how sex education is taught and discussed in state schools. The measure is an outgrowth of Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law.

You can’t please everybody. So, says Democratic Senator Traci Davis, why not limit the plans to allow parents who object to certain instruction or materials, to limit access to their kids only? Davis tried to amend the bill to do just that when it comes to school library books and classroom materials.

“We shouldn’t allow one parent to cancel the materials for every student pending a review that could take at a few months [or] a few weeks," said Davis.

But Senate Bill sponsor, Republican Clay Yarborough, wasn’t having it.

“Allowing objected materials to remain available to other students could lead to confusion and potentially expose them to content their parents might find objectionable," he said.

Senate Bill 1069 creates a process for people to challenge public school library books—an expansion of last year’s parental rights in education law, which critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” It also limits pronoun use for students and employees to the ones that align with a person’s biological sex.

“Let’s be honest about what this bill is about. It’s about silencing any discussion about anything different from heterosexuality," said Democratic Senator Tina Polsky.

Most of the books removed from schools so far have included same-sex relationships, and descriptions of sex that Gov. Ron DeSantis has described as pornographic. Here’s Yarborough, describing a recent press conference where the governor and state ed officials highlighted some of the books removed.

“One of the books was called ‘Flamer’ that’s a graphic book about young boys performing sexual acts at a summer camp. Another was “The Teens Guide To Sex"... we need to keep the discussion about what’s called ‘book banning’ in context…we have in no way directed the districts and schools to remove every single book off their bookshelves.”

The proposal initially extended a ban on instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation through the 8th grade, but a move last month by the state board of education to extend the ban to all grades made that issue moot. The newest proposal comes amid an intensifying backlash to LGBTQ issues and a rapidly escalating culture war, which Gov. Ron DeSantis is leaning into.

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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