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Teachers speak out against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law

Educators believe Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed the bill for political gain, rather than with any understanding of school curriculum.

Teachers speak out against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law
Image Source: Tampa Pride Held In Wake Of Passage Of State's Controversial "Don't Say Gay Bill." TAMPA, FL - MARCH 26. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial "Don’t Say Gay" bill, more formally known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, into law on March 28, 2022. The legislation has left hundreds of educators confused about how to approach discussions on topics related to the LGBTQ+ community in schools. The state's LGBTQ+ and allied teachers are speaking out against the law, sharing their furious, fearful responses and calling for greater inclusivity in the classroom. The bill is scheduled to come into effect on July 1. United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine have promised their unwavering support to LGBTQ+ kids and their families in Florida, PinkNews reports.



 



 

"Currently, I’ve got a rainbow on my shirt, I’m wearing the colors of Ukraine today, you know, I’d like to be a cause célèbre before I die," shared Leslie Owens, a nonbinary educator who has been teaching in Florida public schools for 16 years. "I’m not going to change the way I teach at all. And if they want to come after me, then let them do so." According to Owens, the bill is not about parental rights. Rather, they believe DeSantis is using the bill to gain favor as part of his presidential campaign. They affirmed, "He’s using hatred as his presidential mantra and this is his way of doing it."



 

The legislation bans the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade. And fourth grade children upwards, these topics must be "age-appropriate" and "developmentally appropriate"—however, the bill provides no definitions for these terms.

Owens has followed a different approach in their classroom. "My classrooms have always been transparent," they stated. "There’s no issue. Any parent is welcome to come into my classroom anytime they want to … All my lesson plans are online, always have been, ever since that was a capability. Our literature book is online, the standards are online. Any parent could go on to the Department of Education website and look at the standards. Look at the curriculum. Look at the literature. Look at the recommended novels. It’s all there. Transparent, there’s nobody hiding anything."



 

In addition to their work in the classroom, Owens runs a weekly lunch club called Emotional Learning, which is essentially a Gay Straight Alliance "in hiding." Through the club, they have already been able to see the effects of the "Don't Say Gay" bill on their students. They revealed, "Kids who are queer are scared. This [county] is Trump country ... The kids have been through so much trauma since Trump was elected. They’ve been so afraid. There’s been so much bigotry and hate. There’s been so much encouragement of bigotry and hate, in our schools, in our county, in our state, in our country. These kids have been traumatized for years now. I mean, this is 2022. This is six years of listening to this constant condemnation, to these lies."



 

Even though some educators are concerned about lawsuits, many plan to continue to do their jobs. In the meantime, education secretary Cardona and assistant secretary Dr. Levine have offered their support. The former affirmed in a statement, "Laws around the country, including in Florida, have targeted and sought to bully some of our most vulnerable students and families and create division in our schools. My message to you is that this administration won’t stand for bullying or discrimination of any kind, and we will use our authorities to protect, support, and provide opportunities for LGBTQ+ students and all students."



 



 

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