At Orlando Weekly, we say gay, and we also say lesbian, queer, bi, trans and intersex

We won't stop, even if DeSantis and 91 Florida legislators don't want to hear it.

It's a tale as old as time — well, maybe not time; maybe it's more like a tale as old as 1998, the last year Florida had a Democratic governor. As a progressive resident of Florida, every year's 60-day meeting of the Legislature starts with fresh hope, which then subsides to a sense of creeping dread that grows day by day. By the end of session, you're hanging your head, avoiding "WTF!?!?!" texts from out-of-town friends, and wondering if you have the energy for another year of protests and calls to your "elected representatives."

Although there were many terrible bills proposed (and most of them passed or are on the verge as of this writing), there's one in particular that has outraged not just local and state progressives, but the entire country. We speak, of course, of the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, promptly and accurately dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by those who've actually read it in good faith. While the word gay does not appear in the bill — in fact early versions of the bill simply referred to "specified information," while never specifying what information — the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, left no doubt about what he was specifying. As he took questions on the floor, he said the bill is a response to what he sees as a cultural shift supporting younger people coming out and explained that he thinks it's just some crazy mixed-up fad.

"Why is everybody now all about coming out when you're in school? And there really is a dynamic of concern of how much of these are genuine ... experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about," he said, simultaneously shaking his fist at a passing cloud. "There's something wrong with how we're emphasizing this, and all of a sudden overnight they're a celebrity. ... I know parents are very concerned about the departure of the core belief systems and values."

In its final form, after passing House and Senate and heading for a no doubt very brief stay on Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk, the bill finally spells it out. Section 3 reads: "A school district may not encourage 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."

Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, bluntly asserted, "Gay is not a permanent thing. LGBT is not a permanent thing."

If you think your 9-year-old hasn't heard the word "gay," doesn't have a friend with same-sex parents, didn't watch Nigel Ratburn and Patrick get married on Arthur, hasn't seen Lil Nas X's "Montero" video, or hasn't danced and sung along with Jojo Siwa ... well, you might be a Jeff Foxworthy fan. And if kids can't ask or talk to trusted grown-ups about any of this, or if they're afraid to ask their parents, they're going to ask the internet. Sorry, Florida Legislature — the world wide web doesn't care about "Parental Rights in Education."

Here's a time-lapse version of the past terrible two months for LGBTQ people and allies in headlines and tweets.

Feb. 8: "Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis endorses controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill for public schools"

The Senate wades into a fight about a controversial proposal that critics have dubbed the "don't say gay" bill because it could affect discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. The overall bill includes issues such as requiring school districts to notify parents of any changes to students' services or monitoring of students' mental or physical health. But part of the bill dealing with discussions about sexual orientation and gender has riled LGBTQ advocates and invited the moniker "don't say gay."

Feb. 9: "Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill moves toward full hearing in Senate"

The Republican-dominated Senate Education Committee approved SB 1834 in a 6-3 vote along party lines, despite testimony from dozens of opponents who argued that the bill could remove teachers as a lifeline for vulnerable LGBTQ youths. Sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, characterized the bill as clarifying the lines of teachers' responsibilities in the classroom. The measure includes a provision for parents to file lawsuits against school districts for violations of the bill.

Feb. 9: "President Joe Biden calls Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill 'hateful,' pledges support for LGBT community"

Feb. 22: "Williston rep. pushes amendment to Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill that would force schools to out students to parents"

A Florida legislator looking to make the bill a little bit more cruel pushed an amendment that would force schools to out children to their parents. State House Rep. Joe Harding proposed a mandatory mediation session between students, their parents and school administrators. The amendment would give the school six weeks from the time they learn a student identifies as LGBTQ to set up a meeting between the three parties. If it doesn't happen, the parents would have the ability to sue the school for not informing them.

Feb. 25: "'Don't Say Gay' bill passes Florida House"

While testifying on the House floor last week, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who is gay, said, "This bill goes way beyond the text on the page. It sends a terrible message to our youth, that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction."

He was instructed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, not to make the debate "personal."

March 1: "Florida inches closer to another bad decision as 'Don't Say Gay' bill is poised to become law of the land"

March 3: "LGBT activists hold protest in front of Walt Disney World asking Disney to speak out against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

March 4: "Disney roasted over response to Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

As word of the bill penetrated even non-political junkies' feeds, the internets did their thing. Tweets and memes rained down on "Don't Say Gay" as Disney adults let the House of Mouse have it. Not to be outdone, DeSantis' head troll, er, press rep Christina Pushaw did some of her own shitposting.

March 5: "'Saturday Night Live' rips Florida, Ron DeSantis over 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

SNL once again had our deeply stupid state in its sights. In a "Weekend Update" segment, Kate McKinnon initially pretended to believe the bill is combating the use of gay as a pejorative in public schools. "When I was in middle school, in the '90s, I was kind of tortured by the constant use of the word 'gay,'" McKinnon, who is gay, explained. "Like, you know, 'That's so gay,' or 'Ew, you're gay.' It made me feel horrible."

She went on to praise Gov. DeSantis and Florida for taking the progressive step of defending gay students before host Colin Jost interrupted to inform her of the bill's real purpose: barring schoolkids' discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

McKinnon eventually called the law "unconscionable" and returned to the hurtful usage of her youth in calling it out:

"If the '90s were right, and 'gay' means 'bad,' then this is the gayest law I have ever seen," she said.

March 8: "Florida's first openly gay state senator cried while debating state's 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

In an emotional bit of testimony against the bill, Sen. Shevrin Jones urged his fellow senators to consider the message they are sending to Florida's youth and the harm they might cause by forcing children to keep their identities hidden. Jones, whose father is a pastor, said he suffered greatly both keeping his sexual orientation a secret and in the immediate aftermath of coming out. He wept while recounting a passage from his father's book that said he was disappointed in his son.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith attempted to testify before the Senate Committee, but Appropriations Committee Chair Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, shut him down, saying he'd already spoken in the House. When Smith filled out a speaker card to comment as a member of the public, he was denied a speaking slot.

March 8: "Florida's controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill passes Senate"

TALLAHASSEE — A fiercely debated bill that would bar instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity for young public-school students is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis, despite Democrats' warnings Tuesday that the measure's approval sends "a message of hate" to Floridians.

Senators voted 22-17 to pass the bill (HB 1557) along almost straight party lines. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, voted with Democrats against the bill.

The House voted 69-47 to pass the measure last month, meaning it is ready to go to DeSantis. The proposal would require that instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity "may not occur" in kindergarten through third grade. For higher grades, the bill would prohibit such instruction if it is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate as determined by state academic standards.

"This (bill) doesn't prevent that teacher from helping a student, from advising a student. What it does is specifically speak to planned instruction," Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said in supporting the measure.

But the bill drew protests from LGBTQ-advocacy groups and has been the subject of headlines nationally, many of which have referred to it as the "don't say gay" bill — a moniker given to it by critics.

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, echoed other opponents in arguing the proposal isn't needed.

"Despite the premise of the bill, I can tell you with absolute, 100 percent certainty, Florida's educators are not indoctrinating young children with age-inappropriate or developmentally inappropriate curriculum. They're not secretly pushing the gay agenda, the trans agenda, the woke agenda. It's just not happening," Book said.

Book also described the "spirit" of the bill as discriminatory.

"Members (senators), before you vote today, consider for yourself what kind of message do you, do we, want to send to every single person in the state of Florida and around the world?" Book added. "Does this body want to send a message of inclusion, of acceptance and celebration of diversity? Or do we want to send a message of hate, intolerance, othering and discrimination?"

Supporters titled the bill "Parental Rights in Education" and have pushed back against the "don't say gay" label.

Other parts of the bill seek to prohibit schools from withholding information from parents about students' mental or physical health and well-being.

For example, the bill says school employees "may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical" health.

Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, argued that the bill has been misrepresented by "rhetoric outside and on the news."

"If I thought that this bill targeted a particular group of students, I'd press the red button (vote no). I'm voting in favor of this bill because I believe in our parents. This bill says parents have rights. It does not discriminate, and it does not silence anyone," Burgess said.

But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, spoke with reporters after the Senate vote and disputed that the bill had been mischaracterized.

"Eight Republicans from both the House and the Senate voted against this legislation because they know that it's wrong," Smith said.

Senate Democrats also hammered part of the legislation that would allow parents to sue school districts for violations of the bill.

"This bill opens the floodgate for vigilante justice," Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, said. "Parents who don't like a teacher, don't like a principal, don't like a school or something that their child came home with. They can register their concern with the school district. If not satisfied with the outcomes, they can keep going and file suit without fear of consequences if their claim is without merit or even outrageous."

The bill includes an alternative process for resolving disputes, which would involve administrative hearings before special magistrates.

DeSantis on Monday appeared to endorse the bill, telling reporters that lawmakers are trying to ensure that parents can "send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum."

But Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is gay, told reporters Tuesday that he expects the bill to be challenged in court. "There is a legal aspect of this that I believe ... as soon as we sine die (end the legislative session), it will be challenged," Jones said. "I'm no attorney, and I know it will be challenged."

Rep. Michelle Rayner, a St. Petersburg Democrat who is lesbian and a lawyer, said the legislation was "written vaguely for a purpose."

"I think that some of the supporters of the 'don't say gay' bill, they want to go to court because they are hoping that the court system will agree with their discriminatory practices. But we have a whole plethora of law, we have case law, we have statutes, that say that this type of discrimination cannot happen," Rayner said.

The bill's passage Tuesday drew an immediate rebuke from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who criticized Florida lawmakers for "prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need." The federal education department has frequently locked horns with the DeSantis administration, most recently over the governor's efforts to prevent mask mandates in schools.

"The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX's protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported," Cardona said in a statement.

If signed by DeSantis, the measure would go into effect in July.

March 9: "Listen up, Florida."

On his Bravo show Watch What Happens Live, Andy Cohen noted that he had a few things he wanted to say. "First, to Florida Republicans, you're pretending to solve a problem that doesn't exist. There is not a mass conspiracy of kindergarten teachers who are plotting to teach children to be gay."

Toward the end of the segment, Cohen added: "I thought the whole point of sending our kids to school was to educate them and prepare them for the real world. ... Well, newsflash, the real world has gay people in it. It has people of all different gender identities. You can draft all the homophobic and transphobic bills you want, you're not going to erase us."

March 10: "Disney CEO says company worked 'behind the scenes' to oppose Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

After protesters called for a public response from the massive Florida employer and social media users lambasted the lackluster response, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told shareholders he felt their ends were better served by working quietly with legislators to oppose the bill. After intense pressure from within and media coverage ranging from disparaging to mocking to irate, Chapek apologized directly to the Disney's LGBTQ employees. He also announced that Disney will pause all political donations in Florida pending a "restructuring" of its political giving.

Meanwhile, as Disney bears the brunt of the outcry, Universal somehow manages to slip past the national notice. Though just as many of their workers are deeply hurt and offended by their employer's lack of support, no public statement had been made as of this writing.

March 11: "Gov. Ron DeSantis says Disney is in thrall to Communist Party of China while responding to company's criticism of Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill"

The days just keep getting dumber, don't they? On March 11, the governor of Florida and possible next president of the United States accused the near-monopolistic entertainment company that runs Florida's largest attraction of bending to the will of communists. DeSantis responded to Disney CEO Bob Chapek's statement against Florida's recently passed "Don't Say Gay" bill by trying to paint the biggest media corporation on Earth as a bunch of reds.

"How do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?" DeSantis said in a statement. "Because that's what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don't say a word about the really brutal practices at the hands of the CCP." (Note to self: Where is Ron DeSantis' campaign merch made?)

March 12: "Florida NOW calls on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the "Don't Say Gay" bill"

Kat Duesterhaus, board member of the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women and a queer-identifying person, said, "HB 1557, or the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, is an attack on the LGBTQ+ community, thinly disguised as a measure to protect parental rights in children's education. ... As Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a recent statement: 'LGBTQ+ youth already face higher risk for bullying, depression and suicide — and this bill will only add to the stigma that fuels these disparities.' HB 1557 also leaves no room for children with two moms or dads ... to be acknowledged aloud by their teacher."

Debbie Deland, president of FL NOW, also weighed in: "Young children in school learn to respect and embrace people of other races. They should also learn to respect and embrace people with different sexual orientations and gender identities. This bill is evidence of longstanding prejudice among extremist politicians toward a community that desires what every person does: love, recognition and acceptance."

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