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Cruel, dehumanising ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill voted through by Florida House despite widespread disgust

Maggie Baska February 24, 2022
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People carry the Rainbow Flag as they participate in the Miami Beach Pride Parade

People carry the Rainbow Flag as they participate in the Miami Beach Pride Parade along Ocean Drive on 19 September 2021 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Getty/Joe Raedle)

Florida Republicans have advanced the reviled “Don’t Say Gay” bill, bringing the controversial legislation a step closer to passing into law. 

The state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed House Bill 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in a vote 69-47 on Thursday (24 February). 

The proposed legislation would prohibit schools from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade or in a “manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.

HB 1557 will now go through the process of getting approval in the Florida Senate. If it passes through the Senate, it will land on the desk of the state’s viciously anti-LGBT+ governor, Ron DeSantis, to potentially be signed into law. 

LGBT+ rights advocates have called on Florida lawmakers to vote against HB 1557 and its sister bill in the Florida Senate, SB 1834, describing the bills as “dangerous” for queer youth. 

Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, the first openly LGBT+ Latino to serve in the state, shared a picture of the final vote count on Twitter after the “Don’t Say Gay” was in the House.

The Democrat vowed that “we will NOT be silenced” despite the bill making it through the passionate debate. 

In a later tweet, he shared that he sadly “expected” the bill to pass through the House, but he was surprised that seven Republicans “crossed party lines to vote against it”. 

Cathryn M Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), denounced lawmakers for advancing the “shameful” bill. 

“LGBTQ+ people proudly exist across Florida, whether politicians approve or not — and we are part of America’s past, present and future,” Oakley said. “Refusing to acknowledge our existence doesn’t change any of that.”

She continued: “The ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill is a politically motivated, shameful effort to attack and endanger LGBTQ+ students. 

“The Florida Senate must vote this discriminatory piece of legislation down.”

During the same session, the Florida House passed another controversial piece of legislation, House Bill 7, also known as the “Stop WOKE” bill. 

According to the HRC, the bill would limit protected speech in classrooms as well as workplaces with more than 15 employees by “censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender and race discrimination”

It would also allow employees the ability to file discrimination claims against their employer that engages in “trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination”. 

Equality Florida denounced Republican lawmakers for passing both bills in a searing statement on Twitter, adding the bills will have “disastrous impacts on classrooms and workplaces”. 

“They will turn Florida into a surveillance state and give the government broad license to censor conversations about American history, the origins of racism and injustice and the existence of LGBTQ people,” the statement read. 

“The Florida Senate should choose not to take up this extreme legislation and turn Florida into a censorship and surveillance state.” 

During the debates on Wednesday (23 February), Smith was visibly upset as he spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which he said is “deeply personal” to him. 

He grilled conservative lawmakers about “what topics specifically about people like myself, LGBTQ Floridians, are not appropriate to teach in the classroom”. 

“Is it topics about how LGBTQ people love one another?” he asked. “Is it topics about our marriages which are legal in the United States and in Florida? Is it about our families?”

Smith continued to fight against the bill on Thursday and said that queer people in Florida are “in distress because this bill is yet another attack on our community”

“This bill goes way beyond the text on its page,” Smith said. “It sends a terrible message to our youth that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction.”

 

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