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Florida House Passes Parental Rights Bill Restricting Pronouns in Schools

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — House Republicans in Florida passed a wide-ranging education bill Friday targeting how teachers and students can use their pronouns in schools, building on the state’s parental rights law that critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”

The proposal tightens restrictions on school lessons about sexual identity and gender orientation, which lawmakers say should happen at home. It also would require libraries pull books from shelves within five days if someone objects to the content in a change opponents contend amounts to censorship.

The measure is part of the push by Florida conservatives to uproot what they say is “indoctrination” in schools and is one of several bills taken up this session focusing on the LGBTQ community and transness.

With the 77-35 vote that saw House Democrats in opposition, the legislation is on the cusp of passing the Legislature but is awaiting a final committee hearing in the Senate. Two Republicans — State Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables) and Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) — crossed party lines and voted against the bill.

“For those who think our schools should be some sort of social justice experiment, I challenge you this: I don’t agree with any of it, but when 100 percent of our children are proficient in reading, and 100 percent of our children are proficient in math, then there is time for all of this silliness,” said state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay). “You want to know what hurts children? It’s the fact that they can’t read, it’s the fact that they can’t do math.”

The bill, FL HB1069 (23R), would broaden the state’s prohibition on teaching about sexual identity and gender orientation from kindergarten through third grade to pre-K through eighth grade. This was a key piece in the Parental Rights in Education bill, known nationally as “Don’t Say Gay,” that was one of the more controversial policies passed by state lawmakers in 2022.

It also targets how school staff and students can use pronouns on K-12 campuses. Specifically, the legislation stipulates that school employees can’t ask students for their preferred pronouns and restricts school staff from sharing their pronouns with students if they “do not correspond” with their sex. Under the bill, it would be “false to ascribe” a person with a pronoun that “does not correspond to such person’s sex.”

As lawmakers voted on the bill, scores of LGBTQ advocates protested outside the House chamber, chanting in opposition of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supports the parental rights expansions, and Republicans who passed it.

Most Florida Democrats have joined them in fighting the legislation, arguing the policies equate to sex discrimination and are disrespectful to LGBTQ students and families. They contend that the bill disregards the rights of parents who support their children being LGBTQ for the sake of others.

“In this body, our duty to our constituents is to make sure that every single constituent is seen and heard in our legislation,” said state Rep. Ashley Gantt (D-Miami). “And this bill does nothing but tell certain parts of our community in Florida that they don’t exist.”

Republican legislators, who hold a supermajority, maintain that expanding the parental rights law is necessary to ensure the state’s youngest students learn about adult topics like sexual orientation and gender identity from their parents instead of at school. Similar to last year when the parental rights bill was introduced, conservatives say the controversy over the proposal is a “manufactured narrative” and criticize advocacy groups and some school districts for politicizing the issue.

The legislation tackles an issue central to the parental rights polices lawmakers approved in 2022, which was inspired by a case in Leon County where parents claim that school officials helped their child transition to a different gender without informing them.

“I’m very concerned when I hear this bill being correlated with another bill, the Parental Rights in Education bill,” said state Rep. Fabián Basabe (R-Miami Beach). “And we’re still calling it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill when I know we’ve all spoken … on how much work has been put into that bill to change any words that may be interpreted as targeting.”

HB 1069 also adds to legislation passed by Republicans last year to increase transparency about what books are available to students.

The bill aims to expand Florida law to require that books facing objections for being pornographic, harmful to minors, or describe or depict sexual activity must be pulled within five days and remain out of circulation for the duration of the challenge.

It also expands school board jurisdiction to classroom libraries. The bill would allow a parent who disagrees with a district’s ruling on a book challenge to appeal the state education commissioner to appoint a special magistrate to hear the dispute.

This comes as DeSantis, along with other Florida conservatives, seek to remove books with graphic content from schools, taking aim at specific titles such as “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which depicts sex acts. Another measure in the bill stipulates that the Florida Department of Education must approve all materials for sex education classes, breaking from current policy of having local school boards pass them every year.

Democrats argue that the bill is too vague and could lead to parents challenging a large number of books that would then be kept off the shelves. They pointed to challenges to media that have played out across the state such as the Ruby Bridges movie being called out by a parent in Pinellas County, where it remains unavailable to other students in the district.

“This bill has given a ticket for racist, homophobic people — that this chamber does not support – to pull books that matter to our children,” said state Rep. Robin Bartleman (D-Weston).

The Senate parental rights bill, FL SB1320 (23R), is slated for a second and final hearing before the chamber’s Fiscal Policy committee, although no date has been set as of yet.