TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An amendment added to a controversial bill on discussion of sexual orientation in class that would require Florida schools to notify parents of a child’s sexual orientation within a deadline was removed from the bill on Tuesday.
Florida HB 1557 discourages school districts from allowing discussion of sexual orientation in classes, in what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
While supporters say the bill was meant to be for younger children up to third grade, it also has a proviso that such discussions should not occur in “a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
An amendment filed Friday by one of the bill’s co-sponsors, State Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, would have required schools to come up with a plan to disclose the “child-specific information” to a parent within six weeks of school personnel being notified.
“The plan must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects the parent-child relationship and protects the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the student,” according to the amendment.
In the originally-filed version, the bill did forbid school districts from adopting any policies that required district personnel to “withhold from a parent information about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
Under that provision, technically schools could still “out” students to parents. However, the bill also included exemptions for cases where there was a concern the disclosure could lead to abandonment or abuse of the student.
The now-withdrawn amendment had removed those exemptions.
News 6 reached out to Harding’s office Monday for comment but no one responded.
“What our bill affirms is that critical decisions need to involve the parents,” Harding said on the Florida House floor Tuesday.
Psychologist David Baker-Hargrove is the president and CEO of 26 Health, aimed at providing health services to members of the LGBTQ community. He said there could be several negative mental health effects on children who are forced to discuss personal issues before they are comfortable doing so.
“It could go completely wrong and completely out of hand,” Baker-Hargrove said. “Then it can just make matters even worse when people don’t have the tools to be able to understand or deal with the situation delicately or know what to say in the right situations.”
Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said he’s concerned with the bill, especially since data shows gay youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. As the first Latino LGBTQ lawmaker in the Florida House, the bill is deeply personal.
“Saying we can’t say gay or transgender in instruction means we are simply slowly being erased and I will not stand by and do nothing as that happens. We can improve this and we can de-escalate the attack on LGBTQ,” Smith said.
Smith also pointed out on Twitter that, according to the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, “LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness at higher rates than (other) youth for a range of reasons: (1) family rejection resulting from sexual orientation/gender identity; (2) physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.”
"LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness at higher rates than [other] youth for a range of reasons: (1) family rejection resulting from sexual orientation/gender identity; (2) physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;"— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) February 20, 2022
-@youthdotgov#DontSayGay makes it worse.https://t.co/rVPd6wB2bv pic.twitter.com/gKo66cnOxf
While debate wrapped up Tuesday, the bill was not called for a floor vote.
The Senate’s version of the bill has only passed one of its three committees so far.
Tuesday was the second reading of the bill and now it will move to a third reading.
There were 12 floor amendments debated on Tuesday and only one was adopted.
The adopted amendment was proposed by bill co-sponsor Joe Harding.