FL education chair goes on diatribe over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law; board looks to add more constraints

By: - March 22, 2023 2:35 pm

Board of Education Chair Tom Grady speaks at board meeting on March 22, 2023. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

As part of his last meeting sitting on the Florida Board of Education, Chair Tom Grady provided a depiction about a highly contentious law approved by the Legislature in 2022, HB 1557, which was officially titled “Parental Rights in Education,” but derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Grady said that the law only applies to young students and that it doesn’t have anything to do with “being gay” or “acting gay,” but didn’t mention the fact that the Florida Board of Education is seeking to ban instructions on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from kindergarten through 12th grade, or that the 2023 Legislature is seeking to ban such instruction from Pre-K through 8th grade.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ students and advocates have been coming to the Florida Capitol building this session to push back against a swath of bills that they claim target gay and transgender students or faculty.

Florida law currently prohibits instruction in public school classrooms on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through 3rd grades, and vaguely restricts it in higher grades. The law has long been criticized by the LGBTQ+ community as an effort to chill speech and discussions of gay and transgender students or teachers, which helped the legislation earn its moniker as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Grady spoke to the rebranding of the 2022 legislation on the issue:

“We need to be diligent and calling out, transparently, what’s true, what these laws do. Because, I won’t say the Left, I’m saying the crazies on the Left, have been very good using language and changing language and changing the common meaning of language to something other than what it is,” he said.

Grady continued:

“‘Don’t say gay’ — whoever came up with that, it was brilliant — but the law that it applied to had nothing to do with saying ‘gay,’ being gay, acting gay or anything about gay.

“It just said little kids – six and seven and eight year old kids – shall not learn about sex education from their teachers. I mean their parents can do it, but not from their teachers. Not homosexuality, not heterosexuality. But they’re really good – the Left – at coming up with these names, so we must be diligent.”

But that law does not say ‘sex education’ — it says ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ The law also broadly impacts older grades. The current Florida law says:

“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.”

So the phrasing “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” means that there are some restrictions for older grades as well, not just for young students.

In addition, there are active efforts to expand the prohibition on instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom, both from the 2023 Legislature and from the Florida Board of Education.

Next month, the board is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt a proposed rule that would implement an additional ban on instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity on 4th through 12th grades, save some very narrow exceptions, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday.

Here’s the proposed rule in full:

“The amendment prohibits classroom instruction to students in pre-kindergarten through grade 3 on sexual orientation or gender identity. For grades 4 through 12, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards… or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.”

The proposed rule is more restrictive than the proposed legislation that Florida lawmakers are pushing through the 2023 session.

That legislation would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from Pre-K through 8th grade and would apply to Florida’s charter schools, among other provisions.

Board to look into high school ‘drag show’

At the tail end of the meeting, board member Esther Byrd informed the board of a “drag show” occurring at one of Orange County’s high schools this week.

“It has come to my attention that there is a drag show at a high school in Orlando on Thursday and I would like to ask the Commissioner if he’s aware of that and if that’s gonna be allowed to go forward?” she asked the board. She referenced Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr.

Diaz responded:

“There is indeed apparently a drag show, a drag show event at Boone High School Orlando in Orange County. And I don’t understand how principals and teachers think the sponsoring such an event the school is proper. We’re going to be reaching out to the district to find out more information about what’s going on,” Diaz replied.

Other than the date and location, no other information was provided at the meeting. However, conservative news outlets are drawing attention to an event scheduled to be hosted at Boone High School in Orlando on Thursday called “Drag and Donuts with Mama Rose.”

The event appears to be put on by the school’s “Queer and Ally Alliance,” run by high school students.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.