If praying the gay away was bad, Florida Republicans’ new bigoted proposal is much worse | Editorial

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They tried to pray the gay away. To bully it. To deny it wedding cakes.

Guess what, young people still turn out to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer — or to question their sexuality.

Not satisfied with this fact of life — a fact since the beginning of time —conservatives now hope they can legislate the community back into obscurity in public schools.

It’s not going to work in the age of the internet, Snapchat, TikTok and children’s ability to Google “What is gay?” Nevertheless, Florida lawmakers are trying to push what’s been the dubbed the “Don’t say gay” bill during this year’s legislative session, with zero regard for the emotional harm it will do to LGBTQ students, who are already more likely to commit suicide.

The bill, among other things, “prohibits a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” according to a legislative staff analysis.

House Bill 1557, and companion Senate Bill 1834, are the latest iterations of the GOP’s obsession with controlling classrooms down to the granular level — all in the name of protecting “parental rights,” though we doubt when they say “parent” they mean much beyond white and, likely, affluent. It’s yet another fight in the GOP’s culture wars — lawmakers also want to ban lectures about race, sexism and homophobia that, they swear, make men and white and straight people feel “anguish” or “guilty.”

While the Florida Legislature wastes time with red-meat issues, an outraged public gets distracted form the real damaging work lawmakers are doing against Floridians, such as the FPL-backed legislation to slow the growth of rooftop solar energy in the Sunshine State — or should we call it the state that wastes its sunshine? Other important issues get swept under the rug, such as the rising cost of property insurance.

Very clever, GOP, very clever.

The sponsor of HB 1557 himself admitted at a Florida House hearing last week that he didn’t consult LGBTQ advocacy groups when drafting his bill — and why would he when the point is to erase the community?

Rep. Joe Harding, R-Ocala, swears his legislation has nothing to do with stopping natural conversations between teachers and students — he said “conversations are going to happen” — but stopping districts from including discussions about sexuality in K-5 curriculum. He also said he doesn’t believe it would prevent schools from observing Pride Month, for example.

Really? What school administrator in this current political environment would dare to even utter the word “gay” or “trans” in front of students if this becomes law, knowing it allows parents to file lawsuits and collect court and attorneys fees if they prevail?

Harding also promised with a straight face — no pun intended — that the bill wouldn’t prevent the teaching of LGBTQ history, such as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people.

So, please explain, Rep. Harding, how should teachers discuss LGBTQ history without talking about “sexual orientation or gender identity?” Should they explain the G in the acronym stands for, what, “happy?”

“Conversations about us aren’t something dangerous that should be banned,” Jon Harris Maurer, Equality Florida’s public policy director told the House Education and Employment Committee, noting there are already laws addressing age-appropriate sex education.

Lawmakers should tell us straight up what this bill is about: pretending a community doesn’t exist, treating it as if it were indeed “something dangerous.”

What’s truly dangerous is that Republican state legislators are diverting Floridians’ attention from real issues in their self-righteous attempt to save students from faux enemies.

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