States

Florida Just Expanded the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law. Here’s What You Need to Know

By Eesha Pendharkar — April 19, 2023 3 min read
An estimated 200 people marched from Westcott Fountain to the Florida Capitol, Friday, March 31, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla., to express their opposition to HB 1069, an expansion on the "Don't Say Gay" bill from last session.
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The Florida board of education has voted to expand the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, banning classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation to all grades.

Under the original Parental Rights in Education law, which was signed into law last year, instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation was banned for K-3 students, but teachers in grades 4-12 were allowed to offer this kind of instruction if it was deemed developmentally appropriate. What developmentally appropriate means is up to the Florida department of education to determine.

But under the expansion, which was proposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration last month and approved on Wednesday, all public school students will be banned from learning about these topics, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can opt out of.

“Educators in Florida are expected to teach to the state academic standards. The topics of gender identity and sexual orientation have no place in the classroom unless required by law,” said Alex Lanfranconi, director of communications for the department of education, in a statement.

“Today’s state board action reaffirms Florida’s commitment to uphold parental rights and keep indoctrination out of our schools,” the statement continues.

What does this mean for educators?

The expansion also puts teachers at risk of losing their credentials if they are found in violation of the law. It did not need legislative approval to pass—just the vote by the state school board.

However, the department of education has not clarified what this type of instruction includes, according to Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+-rights advocacy organization, and that uncertainty has caused confusion among educators about what they legally can and can’t teach.

“This proposal puts the legal liability on the individual educator, putting their professional license on the line if they violate this new proposed policy,” Wolf said in a previous interview with Education Week. “And so it’s no longer about parents holding individual districts accountable. And instead [it’s] about teachers fearing that they’re going to lose their jobs and not be able to be educators anymore.”

GLSEN, a national LGBTQ+ rights advocacy organization, denounced the expansion, emphasizing research the organization has conducted that showed that LGBTQ+ youth who attend schools with inclusive curricula have higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging, and are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, among other benefits that promote long-term wellbeing and achievement.

“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,” said GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers in a statement.

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Demonstrators gather to speak on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol on March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Demonstrators gather to speak in front of the Florida State Capitol on March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP

Impact of the law was felt before its expansion

The current version of the law is already having an effect on the numbers and types of books for younger children that are being challenged and the resources being withdrawn from schools. The expanded version is almost certain to have those same impacts on books and resources for older students, Wolf said.

High schoolers at Boone High School in Orlando, Fla., felt the impact of the expanded version of the law the week it was introduced, after their annual Drag and Donuts event on March 23 was canceled following a phone call from the department of education to the Orange County school district.

Boone High School principal Hector Maestre said in a letter to parents that the department had warned the district that any staff member present at the event risked losing their license, forcing the school to cancel the event. Neither the original version of the law, which was in effect at the time, nor the expanded version, mentions restrictions on student clubs.

Prior to the expansion of the scope and educator penalties of the law, Scarlett Seyler, the president of the Queer and Ally Alliance student club, shared how she hopes educators can help defend all students from such legislation, especially LGBTQ+ students.

See Also

Scarlett Seyler, president of Boone High School’s Queer & Ally Alliance Club, stands for a portrait outside the school's Orlando campus on April 6, 2023.
Scarlett Seyler, president of Boone High School’s Queer & Ally Alliance Club, stands for a portrait outside the school's Orlando campus on April 6, 2023.
Zack Wittman for Education Week

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