A fifth-grade teacher in Florida is under investigation for “inappropriate conduct” by the state Department of Education (DOE) because she showed her class the Disney movie Strange World, which contains a scene where one of the male characters says he has a crush on a boy.
Jenna Barbee in Hernando County, who showed the 2022 Disney movie in class, defended herself at a school board meeting last week, saying that she showed the movie because it was tied to her class’s Earth science lesson.
“The word indoctrination is thrown around a lot right now, but it seems that those who are using it are using it as a defense tactic for their own fear-based beliefs without understanding the true meaning of the word,” she said. She added that the movie contains no sexual content, that it’s rated PG, and that the parents of every student in her class signed a permission slip allowing their kids to view PG movies.
The school district confirmed that a teacher showed the movie in class and that a parent complained, saying that it was not appropriate because of a scene where a boy says he has a crush on another boy. Barbee believes that it was Hernando County School Board member Shannon Rodriguez who reported her to the DOE. Rodriguez’s campaign was endorsed by the anti-LGBTQ+ organization Moms for Liberty, and she has said that she believes that there is “smut” and “porn” in the school libraries in the district.
Rodriguez’s daughter was in Barbee’s class when the movie was shown.
Last year, Florida passed its infamous “Parental Rights in Education” law, better known as Don’t Say Gay. The law bans discussions of sexuality and gender in kindergarten through third grade and restricts them in older grades. The law was written so vaguely that opponents said that it can be used to ban age-appropriate material that even mentions LGBTQ+ people.
Barbee received a letter from the DOE’s Professional Practices Services that said that it “has determined an investigation is warranted into allegations that you engaged in inappropriate conduct, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Rodriguez, at the school board meeting, told Barbee that she should have gotten the specific movie Strange World approved by the administration. She accused Barbee of “playing the victim.”
“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child: religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above,” Rodriguez said. “But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door, and please hear me, they assist teachers in opening the door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”
“As a leader in this community, I’m not going to stand by and allow this minority to infiltrate our schools,” she said.
The character Ethan Claude in Strange World, played by Jaboukie Young-White, is gay.
“I thought that it was pretty cool, just in the fact that Don and [co-director and writer Qui Nguyen], the creators, really have a commitment to just reflecting what our world looks like and what reality looks like, in a way that isn’t heavy-handed or forced,” said Young-White when the movie was released. “It’s kind of just the way it is.”
The movie was attacked by anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups when it was released, with One Million Moms – a project of the American Family Association – saying it’s part of “the LGBTQ agenda” that Disney is “pushing on families.”
“Disney is no longer being discrete, but now Disney has traded its subtlety for intentionality,” the group wrote on its website. “The Disney that parents knew as children is long gone. Disney has now decided to be politically correct instead of providing family-friendly programming. But Disney should stick to entertaining, not pushing an agenda.”
Disney didn’t try to distribute the movie in countries with poor records on LGBTQ+ rights, including China, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, and Uganda.