Democratic State Rep. Shevrin Jones, of Broward County, is shown during a legislative hearing. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.
An openly gay state legislator is warning that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation could force teachers out of the classroom rather than expose LGBTQ school children to possible abuse at the hands of unsympathetic parents.
“Already countless teachers across the state have already said that they will leave the profession, amidst a teacher shortage altogether, due to this,” Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said during a virtual news conference on Friday.
Jones noted that that he is a former teacher — “one who has been in the classroom with children,” he said. “One who has been able to listen to students as they’ve shared some of their most pressing issues that they could not even share with parents.”
Jones joined legislators from a number of states during the event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ people, to discuss recent and pending legislation targeting their civil rights. The organization has targeted 313 bills nationally as harmful.
They include HB 1557, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill adopted during the recent session of the Florida Legislature. Officially entitled “Parental Rights in Education,” the measure — which Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised to sign into law — prohibits discussion of sexual or gender identity in the low grades and in higher grades if age-inappropriate.
Parents could sue school districts if they feel teachers have stepped over the line, provoking fears of a chilling effect.
“It’s a travesty that, in the past legislative session, Gov. DeSantis and his GOP allies have once again generated headlines for Florida for all of the wrong reasons,” Jones said.
“The Don’t Say Gay bill was one of many attacks on our most vulnerable communities,” he said. “Classrooms should be places of inclusion where every Florida child can learn safely and ask questions. But not in Ron DeSantis’ Florida.”
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist empathized with the LGBTQ community during a separate virtual roundtable this week. Crist, a former Republican governor turned Democrat, said the “Don’t Say Gay” bill “is trying to demonize gay people, it’s trying to punish gay people.”
“To me, this issue comes down to respect,” he said. “We are a rainbow state. … We are one of the most diverse states in the United States of America, gay and straight.”
Crist is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2022.
“How many times do we have to go out and protest about simple human dignity?” he said.
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