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'Don't Say Gay' bill clears first Florida Senate hurdle

'We need parents in charge,' Sen. Dennis Baxley says
PHOTOS: 2018 Tampa Pride Parade in Ybor City
Posted at 11:20 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 23:20:29-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — What opponents call the "Don't Say Gay" bill cleared its first Florida Senate committee Tuesday morning with a party-line vote.

Republicans pushed it through despite the LGBTQ community outcry.

SB 1834 would give parents more control over a student's education, records and well-being in school. But buried in the bill is a controversial provision making national headlines and getting attention from the White House.

The bill reads that districts "may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate…"

Parents are also permitted to sue if schools fail to comply.

Sen. Dennis Baxley
Sen. Dennis Baxley explains why supports the bill.

"We need some stability," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake. "We need parents in charge."

Baxley is sponsoring the Senate's version of the bill.

He said the provision targets curriculum, not conversations, and kindergarten through third graders, not older students.

Baxley said parents should be having the discussions — not teachers.

"These children do not belong to the state," Baxley said. "They belong to families. Without their involvement, there is no success for children."

Opposition in Tuesday's Education Committee was fierce.

During public comment, many told lawmakers SB 1834 was vague and could chill important conversations in school. Others called it offensive and worried gay or trans youth would suffer in silence.

Andrew Triolo, transgender teen from Brevard County
Andrew Triolo says the bill will have detrimental impacts on children.

That included Andrew Triolo, a transgender teen from Brevard County.

"I was once in third grade. I was still transgender," Triolo said. "Passing this bill will go completely against normalizing LGBTQ identity in children when it's completely fine for a kid to be straight."

The White House also offered a statement against the bill. A spokesperson called it politics at its worst.

"Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence," said the statement. "These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that too many LGBTQI+ children face."

Even so, the GOP majority pushed the bill through. It's now headed to its second of three Senate committees where lawmakers may amend it.

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Orange Park, said she would like to improve the bill language to ensure its provision more specifically targets curriculum and grades K-3.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, wanted to exchange a parent's right to sue for a financial penalty.

Baxley said he was open to making changes as the policy advances.

"They understand the intent and the heart of this legislation," he said. "If they can make it better, I am all for a group project."

A House version of the bill faces one more committee stop before reaching the floor.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also said Mondayhe supports the bill in concept.