After voting yes to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill earlier this week, the Florida Senate has now passed House Bill 7, known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” which would censor protected speech on racism and gender-based discrimination in classrooms and workplaces with more than 15 employees. The bill already passed the House and is now on its way to the desk of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who will likely sign it. It will also likely be challenged in courts.
The law is so broadly and vaguely written that it will likely discourage lessons on diversity and societal prejudice.
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“Anti-equality legislators in Florida must stop advancing discriminatory bills that attack marginalized groups,” Cathryn M. Oakley, State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said.
“House Bill 7 is a shameful attempt to censor critical conversations about important issues that impact vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ+ people. Injustice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and racial identity exists, despite any attempts by the state legislature to sweep it under the rug,” Oakley continued.
“The so-called ‘Stop WOKE Act’ will have negative consequences across the state of Florida, not just for individuals but also for businesses,” she concluded. “Governor DeSantis must veto this bill.”
The text of the law forbids any training or instructions that compel a student or laborer “to believe that members of any race, color, sex, or national origin” are morally superior, inherently biased, privileged, worthy of discrimination, or that they should feel distressed or bear responsibility for past actions of their associated people.
While that may sound reasonable on its face, it essentially means that anti-discrimination sensitivity trainings cannot suggest that people may be unaware of their own social privilege. Anyone who leaves a training feeling upset about its depiction of their own social identities and privilege could essentially sue a school or business.
The law specifically says that groups cannot criticize the concept of “racial colorblindness” — the idea that one does not “see race.” The concept rests on the idea that race-based differences don’t matter and that one doesn’t need to consider systemic racism or one’s own bias too deeply.
The law also prohibits “revising requirements for required instruction on the history of African Americans” which would basically prevent Black history curricula from being updated with new concepts or historical findings.
In a confusing series of turns, the law also says that state schools may try and attract students from diverse backgrounds. It says that schools can and should teach about concepts of racism in lessons about slavery and the Holocaust, including,”how the individual freedoms of persons have been infringed by slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, as well as topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination…”
It also says that training on diversity is okay if it’s part of “a larger course of training or instruction … given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
In short, it’s a broadly written law that seems ripe for multiple interpretations and possible litigation by people who feel like they’ve been made to feel less than worthy over their identities.
Teachers, non-profit organizations and companies have said that such laws are intended to chill any speech that challenges institutional racism, misogyny and queerphobia. Those who break the law could be subject to lawsuits and other civil charges, essentially putting a target on anyone who speaks out in defiance of it.
The bill is also a throwback to the Trump Administration. During Trump’s tenure, he issued an executive order banning any federally funded groups from covering “race-based ideologies,” something he called “divisive, un-American propaganda.”
Republicans have largely followed Trump’s path, waging war against the teaching of Critical Race Theory, which examines the historical origins of institutional racism.
171 major U.S. companies have already signed a statement opposing anti-LGBTQ legislation, like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bears similarities to the “Stop WOKE Bill.”