Biden slams planned Florida law branded 'Don't Say Gay' bill banning LGBT+ discussion in schools

President Joe Biden slammed the bill, saying his Adminstration would "continue to fight for the protections and safety" LGBTQ+ people deserve. Credit: AP

President Joe Biden has criticised a "hateful" Florida bill that would ban the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools in the state.

The controversial bill has already won the support of Florida state governor Ron DeSantis.

Backers of the legislation, known by critics as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, claim it would allow parents to make decisions about their children's upbringing. 

But opponents believe it would significantly damage the rights of LGBT+ students in the state, with one Florida teacher telling ITV News it would be "a gigantic step in the wrong direction".

President Biden said: "I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community... to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

The Parental Rights in Education Bill, as it's officially known, was proposed last month by the Republican-led legislature and resembles the section 28 legislation in force in the UK from 1988 to 2003.

If passed, it would ban schools teachers from encouraging "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."

While the wording suggests the bill would only apply to "primary grade levels", legislators have not clarified what this would mean in practice or the meaning of "age...or developmentally appropriate", leading to concerns it could also impact older students. 

It would allow parents to sue school districts if they believe they have broken the law.

Tracy Merlin, who has been a primary teacher in Broward County, Florida for 22 years, told ITV News: "My job is to make sure every child feels safe in the classroom, and this bill takes a marginalised community and turns it into a taboo subject."

Tracy Merlin, a Florida teacher, told ITV News the bill would be "a gigantic step in the wrong direction"

"There are children in my classroom who have two parents of the same gender", she said, "when a child cannot even discuss their home life, because the government has decided it is not okay, it erases their personal history and I cannot think of anything more demoralising for a student."

"This is the group that already has higher levels of attempted suicides in the teenage years, this is the group that already feels excluded at times... these are the kids we really need to be supporting", she added.

At a hearing on Tuesday, State Senators questioned the impact of the bill. 

Republican State Senator Travis Hutson suggested whether a maths problem including the details "Sally has two moms, or Johnny has two dads", would violate the legislation. 

In response, Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsors the bill, said that was "exactly where the problem was". 

Mr DeSantis, a Republican who is seen as a potential candidate for the Presidency in 2024, told reporters at an event on Monday it was "entirely inappropriate" for teachers to talk to students about their gender identity. 

Governor Ron DeSantis, widely viewed as a potential candidate for President in 2024, signalled his support for the bill on Monday. Credit: Twitter/@GovRonDeSantis

He said they should be "teaching kids to read, to write...we need more civics and understanding of the US Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic things."

The governor, however, did not confirm whether he would sign the bill into law. 

Opponents of the bill believe it will endanger LGBT+ students.

Chasten Buttigieg, a former teacher and husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said last month that the bill would "kill kids". 

Kevin Naff, Editor of the nation's oldest LGBT+ newspaper the Washington Blade, told ITV News the bill would have a "chilling effect on teacher's abilities to answer event the most basic questions about sexual orientation or gender identity".

"Imagine you have a student who is about 10 or 11 years old", he continued, "who asks a question of his teacher in health class about a gay uncle, if the teacher answers that question she is opening herself up to a lawsuit."

He added backers of the bill, including governor Ron DeSantis, were trying to appeal to Trump voters with "low-hanging fruit".

"I'm very worried", he said, "these are just tactics to get attention and to curry favour with Trump and his wing of the party."

One Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, said she had heard people were protesting the bill by calling Legislative Officers and "just saying the word 'gay' and then hanging up." 

The bill still has to pass through number of committees and votes before it becomes law but, if successful, would come into effect in July this year. 

If any of the issues in this article have affected you or someone you know, there is always help available:

  • Switchboard the LGBT+ helpline can provide an information, support and referral services. Their phone line is open every day from 10am-10pm on 0300 330 0630.

  • Samaritans is on hand for anyone who’s struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure. They have a free 24 hour helpline on 116 123 and lots of other ways to get in touch.