GOP-run Fla. legislature OKs “Don’t say gay’ bill
FEA President Andrew Spar backing academic freedom. | Wilfredo Lee/AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Over teacher and student opposition and a bitter State Senate debate, the GOP-run Florida legislature approved a “Don’t Say gay’ bill, and sent it to sponsoring right-wing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign.

The measure bans teachers in kindergarten through third grade from even discussing gay rights, and mandates “age-appropriate” answers to students’ questions in higher grades, while banning lesson plans. Georgia’s GOP-run legislature has a similar bill pending.

It was one of a raft of rightist social issue and anti-worker measures the governor pushed as he eyes a GOP presidential run in 2024.

The measure was couched in the term “parental rights,” also raising the specter of the state forcing teachers and schools to “out” LGBTQ kids. But “Don’t say gay,” stuck, angering the measure’s Republican backers, who loudly denied the charge.

And “parental rights,” as Republicans use the phrase, is usually code words for barring teaching about race. The Florida GOP majority banned lessons that could cause students of any race—meaning whites–discomfort, too.

Catering to his radical right base, DeSantis told a recent Tampa press conference: “We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum.”

Teachers and students rallied against the “Don’t say gay” bill and other anti-worker and anti-education measures in the days preceding the early-March votes. Hundreds of teachers descended on the state capital of Tallahassee all week to lobby against it. Thousands of students staged a one-day strike against it on March 7.

“This is a direct attack on Florida’s LGBTQ+ community, and that is not OK,” State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Broward, said during the debate.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s joint AFT-NEA affiliate, “believes ALL students deserve a safe place to learn–no matter their race, background, ZIP code, gender identity or sexual orientation,” FEA President Andrew Spar tweeted.

The national AFT and the Biden administration both strongly opposed the bill, too. Biden Education Secretary Miguel Cardona implied the “Don’t say gay” bill’s discriminatory intent could jeopardize federal funds flowing to Florida schools. The federal government provides 10.6% of all Florida schools’ revenue, NEA reports. Counties and the state split the rest.

“The Florida Senate passed the discriminatory and dangerous Don’t Say Gay bill & it is on the governor’s desk. What educators and school staff know is that despite this bill we’re going to make sure our #LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome. #SayGayAnyway,” AFT tweeted.

“Students of all sexual orientations, genders, races, & ethnicities deserve a safe & welcoming school where they can see themselves and their families in the curriculum. We won’t stop fighting for them & we are prepared to protect our members for doing the same. #SayGayAnyway,” its second tweet said.

“It’s discriminatory, it’s a form of bullying, it’s horrific,” Democratic President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a recent briefing.

“Parents across the country are looking to national, state, and district leaders to support our nation’s students, help them recover from the pandemic, and provide them the academic and mental health supports they need. Instead, leaders in Florida are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need,” Cardona said.

“The Department of Education has made clear all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.” Other social-issue and anti-worker measures the GOP-gerrymandered legislature approved before its scheduled session ended included:

  • Beating this bill was FEA’s top priority. It would renew anti-teacher, anti-union restrictions GOP lawmakers imposed before, many crafted by the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-politician cabal.

HB1197’s provisions force public unions, including FEA, to stand for renewal from their members every year, and they must gain an absolute majority of all members, not just those voting, to win. It also would ban automatic dues deductions from paychecks.

“Students deserve fully staffed schools with small classroom sizes so they can receive the individual attention they need. HB1197 will only make the teacher and staff shortage worse, meaning students will be the ones who suffer,” FEA’s talking points said. It “limits your freedom to join with your fellow educators to advocate for your working conditions and for the needs of the students you serve.” There were also no State Senate hearings on it.

  • An abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is virtually identical to the Mississippi ban now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Yanking state education funding from the 12 of the state’s 67 county school districts, virtually all of them in “blue” counties such as Miami-Dade and Broward (Fort Lauderdale). The districts’ offense? Continuing anti-coronavirus mask mandates, defying DeSantis’s ban.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.