Florida students hold massive protests in last attempt to block “Don’t Say Gay” bill

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In a final attempt to stop Florida from passing the anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” bill – which would ban teachers from acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people – Florida students have staged protests and sit-ins at the Florida capitol building in Tallahassee.

Holding homemade signs, students chanted, “We say gay” and assembled on the building’s front steps and inside to demonstrate against the bill. Inside the building, a young protester named Madelyn read a list of LGBTQ people who died by suicide after experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Related: Disney declines to condemn Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill after donating to GOP backers

Speaking to students outside of the building, out Florida Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith, said, “[Despite] the ugliness that has come through the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, we see [LGBTQ students and teachers]. We love you. We support you for who you are, and we will get up, stand up and wake up every single day to fight for you because your lives matter.”

Smith, the first out gay Latin person elected to Florida’s congress, invited protesters to stage a sit-in on the capitol building’s fourth floor “so that while those senators walk on the Senate floor, they need to look you in the eye first and see your humanity before they vote on this bill,” he said.

Despite the protests, the bill is widely expected to pass Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate and also to be signed by the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. On Monday morning, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said that anyone who opposes the bill is a pedophile.

The bill is officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill and says teachers cannot “encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It also says parents can sue their children’s schools for failing to adhere to these rules.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Joe Harding, has said his bill won’t prevent students from discussing their LGBTQ families or stop teachers from discussing LGBTQ historical events, like the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooing in Orlando. But critics say the vaguely written bill will frighten teachers and administrators from speaking about LGBTQ issues at all.

The LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN says that schools often misapply vaguely written “no promo homo” laws – which impose restrictions on LGBTQ curricula – to apply to health curriculum, school events, and even extracurricular activities. Such states also offer little to no sexual health education, leaving LGBTQ students completely ignorant about their identities or how to protect themselves from anti-LGBTQ bullying.

A 2017 Hornet article found that seven states with “no promo homo” laws also had some of the worst HIV rates in the entire nation.

The bill is part of a larger anti-LGBTQ push from state conservatives. In late 2021, the Florida Department of Education yanked down an anti-bullying portal following pressure from right-wingers. The department said the information is “under review,” but it’s unclear when, if ever, it will return online.

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