Tuesday morning, the Florida Senate passed the controversial SB1834. Formally known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, the proposed legislation is commonly called the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The proposal passed with a vote of 22-17 along party lines with two Republicans, Senator Jeffrey Brandes and Senator Jennifer Bradleycrossing the aisle. But in the debate, the bill's sponsor, Senator Dennis Baxley, said the quiet part out loud and revealed his reasoning behind it all: to stop LGBTQ+ children from coming out.
The "Don't Say Gay" bill as it stands would bar any classroom discussion around gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-3. It would also restrict conversation around those topics to what is developmentally and age-appropriate for grades 3 - 12. To be clear: schools are already in the business of determining what is developmentally and age-appropriate discussion and almost no topics are enshrined in state-wide statute in this way in Florida. While some have said this proposal is about sex ed or sexual acts, the actual text does not refer to sexual acts. When Brandes offered an amendment to change the legislation so that it would refer to all sexual acts, Republicans shut it down.
In debate, Baxley was questioned about the legislation. He was asked on the floor multiple times to provide examples of ongoing classroom instruction that showed a need for the bill, he could provide none. Instead, he spoke about the increasing number youth coming out as LGBTQ+. He said he discussed the matter with his son, who is a psychologist.
“Why is everybody now all about coming out when you are in school?” he said on the floor, according to The Advocate. “There really is a dynamic of concern about how much of this are genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities and experimenting.
“That’s what kids do, you know. Maybe they’re in this club or they’re in that club or they’re onto this. And they’re trying on these different identities of life trying to see where they fit in. I said am I crazy or what? All of a sudden we’re having all these issues come up about this topic of their sexuality and gender. I don’t understand why that’s such a big wave right now.”
Baxley had earlier said that this legislation would not impact after-school clubs and organizations, only classroom instruction.
“Some of it is I’m sure cultural shift of what’s accepted and that kind of thing," he continued. "But I know some of it is just the confusion kids go through, particularly when you go to middle school and high school."
A version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill previously passed in the Florida House. The legislation has been the subject of protests and walk outs across the state from high school students. It now will now go to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has previously indicated his support.