Florida’s Board of Education approved an expansion of the state’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which will bar teachers from talking about sexual orientation and gender for all public school students. The decision came at the request of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who filed an administrative proposal for the changes last month.
The new rule adds to the existing Parental Rights in Education law, enacted in March 2022, that bans public schools from teaching about gender or sexual orientation from kindergarten through the third grade. The law bars discussing these topics in a way that is not “age” or “developmentally” appropriate. The new rule extends the provision of the law for students through 12th grade.
Advocates have said these types of measures ensure that parents have control over what their students learn in school. “There is no doubt that one family is completely different from another family,” Christian Ziegler, chairman of the Florida GOP, previously told TIME. “But the most appropriate way to handle this is to allow parents and families to introduce these concepts and have these discussions with their family when they think it’s appropriate.”
Critics say the law erases LGBTQ+ from discussions and censors Floridians. They are also concerned that the laws will harm the estimated 114,000 queer youth in the state, according to the 2020 count administered by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
“The decision by the Florida Board of Education to extend curriculum bans through twelfth grade is disgraceful — and it will result in catastrophic consequences for Florida students and supportive educators,” wrote Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of Gay, Lesbian ,and Straight Education Network, a nonprofit founded by educators to create affirming spaces for queer youth, in an email statement. “Curriculum bans deprive LGBTQ+ youth of the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the classroom and their non-LGBTQ+ peers from learning about LGBTQ+ communities.”
The law will officially go into effect after a notice period of about a month.
The expansion of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws
Florida legislators have also been considering a number of bills with similar provisions to the Parental Rights in Education law that seek to prohibit instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity until eighth grade.
The set of three bills being considered— House Bill 1223, 1069 and Senate Bill 1320— would expand Don’t Say Gay laws. The proposed bills include provisions that would require Florida educators to teach that sex is assigned at birth based on sexual organs, along with other measures. The bills would also make school districts legally liable for enforcing the mandates.
The proposed legislation differs from the Board of Education’s vote—which was passed unanimously by the governor-appointed members and does not require legislative approval. Florida statute gives the State Board of Education the authority to enact rules and “adopt comprehensive educational objectives for public education.”
The newly passed rule impacts teachers—as opposed to the legislation, which targets school boards—barring them from giving classroom instruction on sexual orientation or identity through twelfth grade “unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards” or part of a course that a parent can exempt their child from attending. Educators who are found to have violated the new rules could lose their teaching licenses.
Brandon Wolf, press secretary for LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida, explains what the proposed bills could mean with an example: “[If a teacher] in English class mentions that a family might have two moms, under the proposed expansion in the legislature, the parent of a student could sue the school district and the school district would be liable for the fact that a teacher acknowledged that LGBTQ people exist,” Wolf tells TIME.
The decision to pass this rule comes amid a torrent of other restrictions in the state that limit the types of books children can read, higher ed instruction on race and more. It also arrives at a tension point between Disney, who publicly denounced Don’t Say Gay, and the governor.
“This policy, rubber-stamped by the State Board of Education, will escalate the government censorship that is sweeping our state, exacerbate our educator exodus, drive more hardworking families from Florida, and further stigmatize and isolate a population of young people who need our support now more than ever,” Wolf adds. “Just one year under Don’t Say LGBTQ has plunged our education system into right wing chaos. Now, the Board of Education has forced us deeper into that chaos. Shame on the DeSantis Administration for putting a target on the backs of LGBTQ Floridians.”