TAMPA, Fla. - A bill aimed at limiting certain words from being spoken in classrooms is being blasted as ‘unnecessary and hateful’ by members, allies, and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community.
Advocates of HB 1557 say there should be limits on classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity, citing parents' rights surrounding their children's knowledge and education of such topics.
"When parents are excluded from decisions affecting their health and well-being at school, it sends the message to children that their parents input and authority are no longer important," parent January Littlejohn said during a committee hearing on the bill in Tallahassee last week.
Opponents feel it's not necessary.
"We want to send our kids to school and know they are going to be healthy and happy and thrive in an environment where they're happy and it's just an unnecessary hateful bill," Zebra Coalition executive director Heather Wilkie said.
Under HB 1557, a school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-5. Proponents feel it's needed to make sure parents are part of the conversation.
"It encourages the parents to have the conversation with the child related to sensitive issues like this. What we don't want is the school district trying to take on the role of being a parent," State Rep. Joe Harding (R-District 22) said.
Opponents are worried it would instead negatively impact LGBTQ+ students.
"If they don't feel like they're going to be supported or if there's a ban against being able to talk about this stuff, then how does that make a kid feel? It makes them feel like they're not worthy. It makes them feel like they're not in a safe environment," Wilkie explained.
If passed, the legislation would also encourage parents to sue districts who encourage discussions about LGBTQ+ issues, but as the bill sponsor, Rep. Harding explains it wouldn't put limits on all LGBTQ+ discussions.
"Whether it's your parents or how they identify or another student in the classroom or whatever it may be. Those are going to happen. Those are conversations. We're talking specifically about procedures the school has," Harding commented.
The bill has since been passed in the House Education and Employment Committee and now moves on to the Judiciary Committee.
"To ban these topics. It's so harmful because they're going to be discussed no matter what. You're just adding additional pressure onto the teachers and potential legal issues onto the school that doesn't need to happen," Wilkie said.