TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Parental Rights in Education bill, known by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, has passed the Florida State Senate as of Tuesday afternoon. The State Senate was never likely to reject the legislation, but was considered by many to be the last realistic battleground for it before being sent off to Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk. Governor DeSantis is expected to sign it into law barring a radical change of heart.
The bill has been one of the most controversial pieces of Florida legislation in years, attracting national attention as a landmark issue in the pantheon of LGBTQ+ causes. Much debate has been had over what exactly the bill entails, but in short it will ban discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms for kindergarten through 3rd grade. The full and final text of the bill is linked in the opening line of this article.
The vote wasn’t lopsided, winding up 22-17 in favor of passing. It was mostly along party lines, with Democratic state senators voting unanimously against. Two Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Jennifer Bradley of Orange Park.
Multiple attempts to modify the broad effect of the bill were unsuccessful. Different proposed amendments would’ve changed the act to merely bar discussions featuring sexual content, while another would’ve focused education on monogamous relationships as a whole instead of specifically non-heterosexual ones.
Students statewide launched activist campaigns to sway public opinion against the bill, including dozens of school walkouts on Thursday. Flagler County’s Jack Petocz was suspended from Flagler Palm Coast High School for the way he carried out his, and received an influx of state and national attention for his efforts.
St. Johns and Flagler counties’ representative in the State Senate, Travis Hutson, voted in favor of the bill. Senator Tom Wright, who covers most of Volusia and some of Brevard counties, also voted in favor.
An impassioned campaign against the bill’s passage was launched by Democratic senators at every stage of the process. “Why do we have to pick on them, marginalize them, single them out?” asked Senator Tina Polsky of Boca Raton. “Why do we want to be part of this systemic discrimination that is going on across the country.”
The office and press team of Governor DeSantis have repeatedly denied claims that the bill singles out LGBTQ+ students, and counter that it’s against the sexual grooming of children. The bill does mention sexual orientation and gender identity, whereas how it evaluates the explicitness of classroom material is more ambiguous. Material is supposed to be ‘age appropriate’ according the bill’s text, but it does not elaborate further.
Attempts to hone the bill in on sexually explicit content instead of LGBTQ+ topics were defeated by Republican legislators. The Parental Rights in Education bill does limit the discussion of orientation and gender identity; it does not directly address explicit content taught to K-3 students as a whole. Regardless of interpretation, it’s set to become law later this year.