An LGBTQ lawmaker fought back tears on Florida’s House floor Tuesday after he was told not to make things personal when speaking out against the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in younger classrooms.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D), the first openly LGBTQ Latino to serve in the state Legislature, had asked “what topics specifically about people like myself, LGBTQ Floridians, are not appropriate to teach in the classroom?” as the chamber debated House Bill 1557. “What part of conversations about people like myself are not age appropriate?”
In response, the Republican House speaker then warned lawmakers against asking or answering questions “in ways that are personal to other members.”
“I’m going to try my very best to comply, to not make my questions personal, but the bill is deeply personal and I’m trying my very best, Mr. Speaker,” Smith said before pausing to compose himself.
Smith and other Democrats oppose the Republican bill, which would also allow parents to take legal action against a school district if they believe a school is breaking the law. The bill specifically targets kindergarten through third grade classrooms and discussions that are “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Smith took to the floor after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding (R), quietly removed an amendment that would require schools to inform parents of their child’s sexual orientation within six weeks of learning that information, even if the disclosure would result in abuse.
Harding, in a statement to local station WESH 2 News on Tuesday, defended his withdrawn amendment.
“All the amendment did was create procedures around how, when and how long information was withheld from parents so that there was a clear process and kids knew what to expect,” he said. “Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student. Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives.”
The father of four, who did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on Tuesday, has previously said that the bill is “designed to keep school districts from talking about these topics before kids are ready to process them.”
“We just want to make sure that teachers promote that discussion at the right age level, and we want to make sure that parents are kept in the loop,” he said in a video response earlier this month after the bill was denounced by the White House as “designed to target and attack” members of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ advocates have similarly argued that censoring such discussions would create more harm than good.
“Signing the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill into law would press the mute button on open discussion in classrooms — the very place where it belongs,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ and questioning youth, previously told HuffPost.
“Even worse, by erasing sexual orientation and gender identity from classroom environments, it would erase LGBTQ students themselves,” he said.
A 2021 report by The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth who reported learning about LGBTQ people or issues at school had significantly lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year. It also found that having at least one adult with whom to share your identity is the No. 1 protective factor against suicide for LGBTQ youth.
The bill, which aims to implement the new rules in schools by July, will be voted on Thursday.