Wednesday, March 02, 2022

This family says Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill will harm their daughter, erase their history. Republican-backed legislation limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools nearing governor's desk. (CBC)

Florida Republican legislators' "Don't Say Gay" bill is an international disgrace. 

From Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "As It Happens" radio program:

This family says Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill will harm their daughter, erase their history

Republican-backed legislation limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools nearing governor's desk

Brandon Hensler, centre, with his husband Michael Hensler, right, and their four-year-old daughter. The fathers are worried about the effect 'Don't Say Gay' legislation would have on their child. (Submitted by Brandon Hensler)

Brandon Hensler doesn't want his four-year-old daughter to feel like an "other" when she starts school next year just because she has two dads.

But he says that's exactly what will happen if Florida passes legislation to restrict the discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

"Imagine being in a classroom where your family doesn't exist, your elected representatives have erased you from history, literally out of the books," the father from Land O' Lakes, Fla., told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"That has got to be crushing. That will make my little daughter feel bad about herself, her life, her parents…. It will make [children] have, you know, scarring mental health issues that we can't even predict right now."

Bill bans anything not deemed 'age-appropriate'

Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday passed the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, which critics call "Don't Say Gay." It will now go to the Florida's Republican-controlled Senate floor.

It 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."  A parent could sue a district for violations. 

Democrats have pushed back against the proposed legislation, and U.S. President Joe Biden called it "hateful" in a tweet last month.

"It sends a terrible message to our youth that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction," Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, told lawmakers in the House before the measure passed.

Rep. Joe Harding, right, and other Florida state congressman recite the Pledge of Allegiance on Nov. 15, 2021. Republican-backed legislation, co-sponsored by Harding, would limit discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

The bill's proponents, however, insist that it won't prevent children from discussing their LGBTQ families or bar teachers from engaging students in spontaneous discussions about sexual orientation or gender. 

Instead, it's meant to stop school districts from integrating lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity directly into the curriculum, said Republican Rep. Joe Harding, the bill's co-sponsor. 

"I believe … that creating boundaries at an early age at what is appropriate in our schools, when we are funding our schools, is not hate," Harding said. "It's actually providing boundaries and it's fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect."

'Intentionally vague' language 

But Hensler — whose daughter starts kindergarten next year — doesn't buy it. He says the bill's language is "intentionally vague."

"Which is why it's so dangerous because it allows legislators and some school district officials to make ... up what they want it to mean," he said.

"It means that if there's a book in the public school library or a book that's in the curriculum that has a chapter that talks about the history of LGBT rights in this country, that could be pulled off the shelf and basically erasing our story from history."

Student activist Kaylee Sandell speaks at a press conference at the Florida state capital hosted by Equality Florida, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign in opposition of HB 1577, also known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill. (Rick Wilson/AIDS Healthcare Foundation/The Associated Press)

Hensler sees it as part of a larger package of Republican-backed education legislation.

There are currently 16 bills at various stages of approval across the U.S. that limit discussion of LGBTQ issues and identities in schools.

There are also currently more than a dozen bills aimed at banning critical race theory — an academic framework that views racism as systemic — including one in the Florida legislature.

"It's a systematic targeting of people of colour, people who are LGBTQ and their families," Hensler said. 

What's next?

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has never explicitly endorsed the legislation, but when asked about it recently, he replied: "I do think you've seen instances in which kids are encouraged to be doing stuff with, like, a gender ideology, and I think the parents really do need to be involved in that."

Hensler — who recently co-wrote a column with his husband in the Tampa Bay Times, arguing against the bill — says he believes DeSantis will sign it into law. 

"So next, we have to talk about how to roll it back. So we're going to spend another six months, two years, five years helping support organizations and people who will stand up and find a way to undo this mess that they've gotten us into," he said. 

"There are great legislators doing great work in our state, but there are bullies who are using hatred to dictate how they want us to live our lives. And we are going to stand up to them."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Brandon Hensler produced by Katie Geleff.

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