So-called 'Don't Say Gay' rules expanded through 12th grade in Florida

Classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity is limited.

April 19, 2023, 12:10 PM

The Florida Board of Education has voted to expand restrictions on classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

"This amendment prohibits classroom instruction to students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 3 on sexual orientation or gender identity. For Grades 4 through 12, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards ... or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend," according to the amendment.

This rule would build on the Parental Rights in Education law Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March 2022. The law bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade.

It also states that any instruction on those topics cannot occur "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards," according to the legislation.

Critics of these restrictions argue that "everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. It looks like this rule would make it impossible to do much instruction at all," Laura McGinnis, of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG, previously told ABC News.

The law was dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics for aiming to restrict curriculum that includes history, literature and more that touch on LGBTQ identities.

Supporters of the rules argue that "there is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education. Full stop," according to a spokesperson for DeSantis, who has backed restrictions on education about race, gender identity and sexual orientation and more in his war on "woke."

Woke is defined by the DeSantis administration as "the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them," according to DeSantis' general counsel, as reported by The Washington Post.

At the Wednesday hearing, the public debated the bill before the board.

Critics argued that the bill will censor speech and stop people from talking about their identities due to its vague descriptions on "instruction" and "gender identity and sexual orientation."

"There's no clear distinction between discussion or instruction," one attendee told the board. "Can people even have those rainbow stickers? Can we talk about Stonewall even happening? We don't know exactly where the line is."

A supporter of the bill said the rule "strengthens the relationship between parents and children by leaving very personal important conversations within the home between students and their families."

The attendee continued, "These subjects affect the mental and emotional health state of our children and most teachers are not trained mental health professionals."

One teacher who spoke at the meeting argued that she fields questions about gender identity and sexual orientation regularly, because students "felt safe to ask me because they trusted me as a teacher and their parents, who opt into sex education for their child, trusted me to answer them. Please understand, if students do not get their questions answered either by their trusted teachers or by those parents that are willing to talk with our children, they will likely find the answers from their peers or the internet with dubious safety inaccuracy."

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