Some teachers fear new state law will encourage discrimination, hate

Some Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers said they are afraid that a new law known by critics as "Don't Say Gay" will encourage discrimination and hate.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miriam Torres said she loves to teach and she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.

The Marcus A. Milam K-8 Center teacher said her classroom is like her second home, so she has a golden frame with her favorite photograph. It was shot on her wedding day. She and her bride wore white lace.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law in March prohibiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, displaying the wedding photo took a different meaning.

“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said before he signed the Parental Rights in Education law during a ceremony at a school near Tampa.

President Joe Biden referred to it as “hateful.” LGBTQ+ advocates protested in Tallahassee. The Walt Disney Company suspended political donations. Many LGBTQ+ teachers in Florida watched it all quietly and waited in fear.

On Friday, Torres was among the Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers who said they are afraid of the new law — known among critics who accuse DeSantis of marginalizing LGBTQ+ youth as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The teachers are concerned it will only encourage discrimination and hate.

“I always wondered about the intention of this law,” Torres said.

At first, Torres was afraid to disclose her identity for this story. She later changed her mind and said she felt it was her responsibility to speak up for other teachers who may be too afraid to speak up or take a position.

“I do feel that it will embolden some ... to silence us. And it sounds cliche, but to push us back into the closet,” Torres said adding, “I think that the wording is vague.”

Torres said she teaches reading and language arts. The reading material sometimes includes the Holocaust, segregation, and civil rights activists. Sometimes there are discussions about discrimination and human rights.

“Now maybe those conversations, we won’t be able to have them,” Torres said. “I worry about that.”

Torres said avoiding the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity will most likely just end up affecting the very children who need support.

“Young kids who are going through a lot and maybe don’t feel accepted at home or don’t even understand what’s happening to them, and sometimes they think there’s something wrong with them. And now we’re going to silence them or make them feel some sort of shame?”

The topics of sexual orientation and gender identity have also been included in anti-bullying education programs around the country. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in March that the feds will be monitoring the implementation of the law to make sure it doesn’t violate federal civil rights law.

Torres and other Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers are still waiting for the district to finish working on guidelines to comply with the new law.

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About the Authors:

Christian De La Rosa joined Local 10 News in April 2017 after spending time as a reporter and anchor in Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando and Panama City Beach.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.