Parent with gay, non-binary children reacts to Florida school rule changes

Changes impact bathroom use, nicknames and pronouns

Many parents and teachers are trying to navigate changes in state law that impact students in Florida schools.

The new laws mandate people use bathrooms that align with their sex, requires parental permission for nicknames, and restricts teachers from discussing personal pronouns.

House Bills 1069 and 1521 added to the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”

Jen Cousins has an 8th-grade child who identifies as non-binary and a 4th-grade son who identifies as gay.

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She supports them fully but says having LGBTQ+ children in Florida schools is stressful.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” Cousins told News 6. ”There’s a lot of stress that goes along with it.”

Districts like Orange County have dedicated a section of their website to highlight new guidance for the 2023-2024 school year.

News 6 learned just last week the state board of education sent a memo to the Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, pointing out that “an employee may not ask a student to provide his or her preferred personal title or pronoun,” according to the memo.

It also points out that “sex is defined as hormones and genitals present at birth,” not “the gender in which the student or employee identifies,” the memo says about the new state law.

It’s “disturbing,” according to Cousins.

“These kids have enough going on between school and hormones and just being this age. Why are we putting that extra burden on their shoulder that somehow, they’re not accepted by society?” Cousins said.

Another memo points out “each school board must adopt a policy for educational records which must include provisions for parents to specify the use of any deviation from their child’s legal name in school,” the memo states.

Parents are now required to fill out an authorization form if their child wants to go by another name other than their name at birth.

Transgender students will be allowed to go by another name, but under House Bill 1069, the teacher or other personnel may elect not to use their preferred pronouns, according to the memo.

“That you can’t address them the way that they want to be addressed, the way that they feel, that their existence is somehow not okay with state standards,” Cousins said.

“Bathrooms are to be separated by biological sex at birth. Trans students and employees must be provided single-stall restrooms,” the memo states.

Heather Wilkie is the Executive Director of the Zebra Coalition and a licensed mental health counselor.

“It’s very heartbreaking, first of all,” Wilkie said. “I see that there are so many youths that needed our services even before the legislation happened. Now, there are more.”

The Zebra Coalition’s main service is offering free therapy to LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24. She said many students have mentioned the changes in the classrooms in therapy sessions.

“It’s tough to hear those stories and know that we can’t really do a whole lot to help them in the school system,” Wilkie said.

Lawmakers wrote in the bill that females and males should be provided restrooms and changing facilities for their exclusive use, respective to their sex, in order to maintain public safety, decency, decorum and privacy.

The law also says that if school districts willfully violate the law, they could be fined up to $10,000.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.