The amendment, proposed by Republican Rep. Joe Harding, would have seen students forcibly outed by schools.
The proposed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill wants to ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in state public schools from kindergarten through fifth grade. It also encourages parents to sue school districts that promote talking about such issues.
A controversial addition to the already devastating bill was added by Harding on 18 February and would have required schools to let parents know if a kid comes out within six weeks, irrespective of if there was a belief that being outed would lead to children being abused at home or abandoned.
The addition was set to be debated and voted on the House floor on Tuesday afternoon, but less than an hour before the House was set to convene, he suddenly withdrew the amendment.
Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill has come under harsh criticism form LGBT+ people and activists globally for being ‘dangerous,’ and ‘deeply bigoted’, with even President Biden condemning the bill as ‘hateful.’
I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve. https://t.co/OcAIMeVpHL— President Biden (@POTUS) February 8, 2022
In a statement, the state representative explained that “the exaggeration and misrepresentation in reporting about the amendment was a distraction; all the amendment did was create procedures around how, when and how long information was withheld from parents so that there was a clear process and kids knew what to expect.
“Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student. Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives,” he added.
However, LGBTQ+ activists are concerned that, should House Bill 1557 and its companion Senate Bill 1834, formally called “Parental Rights in Education”, pass into law it could have a devastating impact on the metal health of LGBTQ+ youth, with some campaigners warning that schools may be the only safe place for some kids to talk about their sexuality.
The underlying bill stipulates that schools “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.
Research conducted by The Trevor Project indicates that LGBTQ+ youth are already four times “more likely to seriously consider, make a plan for, or attempt suicide than their peers” and that “at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13–24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.”
USA Today reports that a poll conducted Feb. 7-20 and released by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida found overall support for the measure at around 40%.
“When we break it down by party registration, we see 54% of Republicans supporting the bill, which is more in line with Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature,” said Dr. Michael Binder, Public Opinion Research Lab Director.
Rep. Carlos G Smith, Florida’s first LGBTQ+ Latino legislator, said that despite the removal of the “sinister, malicious, unconscionable amendment” the bill is still not “OK at all in any way, shape or form”, also tweeting that it “deliberately puts LGBTQ youth in harms’ way.”
Currently, four US states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas – have laws on the books that expressly prohibit or limit sex education to heterosexual activity.
“It is impossible for us to not take this personally,” @CarlosGSmith on HB 1557, the #DontSayGay, bill moving closer to passing the Florida House. pic.twitter.com/HFzpNnS9wW— Florida House Democrats (@FLHouseDems) February 22, 2022
NEW: Here's the moment @CarlosGSmith gets emotional during debate on the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill.— Jay O'Brien (@jayobtv) February 22, 2022
He was asking for examples classroom instruction about LGBTQ issues that isn't "age appropriate," per the text bill says. pic.twitter.com/4E7oMrWf6x