By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – Florida’s House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Republican-backed bill that would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, a measure Democrats denounced as being anti-LGBTQ.
The legislation, referred to by its opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill, has stirred national controversy as the debate over what schools should teach children about race and gender has grown increasingly partisan.
The Florida bill states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
While the language only specifically includes young children in those primary school grades, critics said it could be interpreted to extend to all grade levels depending on what is deemed “age appropriate.” The bill would allow parents to sue school districts in violation.
The measure passed 69-47 on Thursday, with mostly Republican support.
Ahead of the vote, state Democratic Representative Mike Grieco slammed the bill as an attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
“This is an anti-gay bill. And if you vote for this anti-gay bill, after today, you can never ever claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ community. In fact, you are voting to be an opponent,” he told fellow lawmakers.
Republican state Representative Tom Fabricio voiced his support for the measure, saying it was necessary to limit what information schools could give to young students.
“Little children do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. They don’t have that ability to understand things at a certain level,” Fabricio said.
A companion bill also is being considered by the state Senate. If passed by both chambers, the legislation would need to receive Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature to become law and take effect in July.
DeSantis, a Republican, seemed to signal his support for the bills formally titled “Parental Rights in Education” at a public event earlier this month.
“Injecting these concepts about choosing your gender…that is just inappropriate for our schools,” he told reporters.
The governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)