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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

LGBTQ advocates vow to sue once DeSantis signs what critics call the 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, left, is hugged by Sen. Tina Scott Polsky
Wilfredo Lee
Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, left, is hugged by Sen. Tina Scott Polsky after Jones spoke about his proposed amendment to a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.

A member of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida said “the anti-LGBTQ animus behind this bill was made very clear.”

A bill banning the instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation grades K-through-3 and mandating that parents have access to all school records is now going to the governor’s desk, and critics of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” are poised to sue once it gets signed.

The bill passed 22-17, with Republican Sens. Jennifer Bradley and Jeff Brandes voting no.

Openly gay Sen. Shevrin Jones said he was surprised by Bradley’s “no” vote and believes there could have been more GOP defections over the bill if some of those Republicans weren’t worried about losing their seats. Jones said when he was in the House, the Senate used to kill bad legislation like the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but that’s not the case anymore.

“The Senate is not where things go to die. It seems like the Senate is just going to do what the governor wants,” Jones said.

In recent years, the Senate—historically known as the more deliberate chamber—has grown more right-leaning with the retirements of some of its more moderate Republicans who’ve been replaced by more conservative members of their party.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated he’ll sign the legislation, which is formally named the Parental Rights in Education bill.

“And we’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” the governor said during a recent press conference.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman recently argued the bill does not target LGBTQ people and accused opponents of politicizing what she claimed was a parental rights measure.

The legislation requires school districts to notify parents of requests by students to use different names or pronouns at school. It calls for schools to notify parents if there are any changes to a student’s health or wellbeing, and it allows parents to sue school districts for keeping such information secret. Schools could still withhold the information if they believe the student would be subject to abuse or neglect.

During the debate over the bill, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said he believes younger children should not be exposed to conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation because he believes it will increase the chance they will identify as LGBTQ in school as they get older.

“All of a sudden we’re having all these issues come up about this topic about their sexuality and gender and I said ‘I don’t understand why [there's] such a big wave right now," Baxley said.

Sexuality is complex, as noted in a 2019 research study published by the journal Science. There is no single factor that can determine whether someone will identify as LGBTQ.

For people like Jon Harris Mauer with the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, “the anti-LGBTQ animus behind this bill was made very clear.”

Mauer said the group may sue if the measure becomes law and said comments like Baxley’s and those made by other Republicans could be used in Equality Florida’s favor in court.

 “So we know there’s a strong legal case against it and that there are partners who are really excited about bringing that case,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jones said he faced a lot of rejection from friends, members of his church, and even his father when he came out. He tells LGBTQ advocates to keep going.

“So for those children who were out there yesterday and for every person who has been rejected by anyone, we love you. Thank you for showing up every single day as your true authentic self.”

Jones called the vote “another stain on the history of Florida,” and said lawmakers can’t legislate gay people away.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.