A week in America | 25 February 2022

This week Martin Liptrot discusses the recently passed lnew law in Florida which forbids schools, teachers or classroom discussions which touch on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Martin Liptrot

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Living in near perpetual sunshine, with easy drinking and licensing laws and an economy which is heavily dependent on tourism and hospitality, you could be forgiven for thinking Florida was an easy-going, relaxed, and laid-back place.

Wrong.

This week, elected officials in Florida’s statehouse have passed a new law which forbids schools, teachers or classroom discussions which touch on gender identity or sexual orientation.

The bill – dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ – passed the House of Representatives by 69-47 and now moves to the State Senate and the Governor who has indicated his support.

That shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis sees himself as Trump’s heir and widely self-promotes himself as The Republican’s next presidential candidate.

Whether or not that political ambition is realised will in part be decided by how much he appeals to the hardcore Christian conservatives who rallied to the Donald in such huge numbers and, of course, they generally, hate The Gays.

Speaking in support of the law, Governor DeSantis was careful to position his argument as being about parent choice rather than his dislike of homosexuals.

“Parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what’s going on in their schools” he said, insisting teachers should avoid ‘entirely inappropriate’ topics and focus on teaching ‘science, history and civics’. He didn’t mention whether he thought dinosaurs, evolution or creationism was in or out of scope – I guess that is for another day.

The ban will mean no discussion on LBGT issues can take place during sex education lessons, and also has the additional catch-all-clause of when ‘not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate’ – whatever that means.

And while other States also have these draconian laws in place, Florida goes a step further and empowers parents to sue teachers or school districts if they think the rule has been broken. This is a tactic which delights both religious fundamentalists and class action lawyers and other big political donors. It was a trick which was inserted into the Texas lawbook recently to allow anyone to sue anyone they believed was involved in performing or enabling abortions.

And bad as this new law seems, it could have been a lot worse.

State Representative Joe Harding – a chubby-faced thirty-something who lists his interests on the Florida State House of Representatives website as ‘being outdoors’ – tried to insert an amendment which would have forced teachers in Florida to out gay students – notifying parents of their student’s sexual orientation within six weeks of them discovering the fact.

Fortunately, there was a huge outcry about this unwarranted amendment and young Rep. Harding withdrew it an hour before the vote was scheduled.

Sensible voices have criticised the bill.

“Banning speech about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms would not only be an infringement on civil rights, it would also erase entire chapters of history, classic literature, and critical health information from textbooks, to say nothing of erasing students themselves,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, a crisis intervention group for LBGTQ+ teens.

It is difficult to understand what Republicans, Conservatives and Fundamentalist Christians are so worried about in our schools.

What do they think is going on in Mrs Pinkley’s third grade class?

They appear to be under the impression there is some huge conspiracy taking place that all the teachers and educators are in on to undermine the social fabric of the entire nation.

And, as a consequence, they and only they can stop our schools becoming hotbeds of indecency and moral turpitude.

At the same time these are often the ones who want to bring back spanking?

Hopefully the Republican controlled Senate will vote it down, but with this being an election year, that unfortunately seems highly unlikely.

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