TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – President Joe Biden’s administration reacted to proposed legislation in Florida that critics say could hurt students in public schools who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning their sexuality.
Florida’s proposed Parental Rights in Education bill, better known as the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, aims to ban talking about gender identity or sexual orientation at schools.
After the Florida Senate’s education committee voted 6-3 to move the law forward to the appropriations committee, The White House released a statement on Tuesday saying it “is politics at its worse.”
The statement’s first paragraph: “Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence.”
The bill aims to allow parents to file lawsuits if they object to a discussion in school and it is on track to become state law. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, filed SB 1834 on Jan. 7, and Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, filed HB 1557 on Jan. 11. As of Tuesday afternoon, the House bill was in the judicial committee.
“There is a reorientation going on in our culture. Maybe some of it is very good, but parents have a parent role and it’s being ignored,” Baxley said during the education committee’s hearing on Tuesday.
Senators Shevrin D. “Shev” Jones, Lori Berman, and Tony Scott Polsky, the only three Democrats on the committee, were the dissenting votes. Republican Senators Joe Gruters, Jennifer Bradley, Doug Broxson, Manny Diaz, Jr., Travis Hutson, and Kathleen Passidomo voted to move the bill forward.
“I think there could be clarity in the language to assure that we are not preventing students from feeling comfortable,” Diaz said.
The issue is personal for Jones, the education committee’s vice-chair. The son of a pastor in Broward County spoke publicly about being a gay Black man after his divorce in his 30s. He is concerned that the Parental Rights in Education bill is a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“The problem is that this is something that the governor is pushing and I believe the chambers feel obligated to get this across the finish line,” Jones said.
Read the complete statement from the White House:
Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves. But make no mistake – this is not an isolated action. Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be. This is politics at its worse, cynically treating our students as pawns in a game and not people who deserve love and respect. At every step of the way, Republicans have peddled in cheap, political attacks, instead of focusing on the issues parents, students, and teachers care about.
Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence. These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that too many LGBTQI+ children face. The President wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve.
Instead of making growing up even harder for our young people, President Biden and his Administration are focused on keeping schools open, providing resources to combat learning loss, and supporting students’ mental health. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue speaking out against harmful anti-LGBTQI+ bills and taking steps to protect our nation’s students.
Bill in Florida Senate
Bill in Florida House
Torres contributed to this report from Miami.