The Florida House voted Friday to extend a prohibition on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to eighth grade, reviving a debate from last year that sparked widespread condemnation from Democrats and copycat legislation in Republican statehouses around the country.
The bill, which passed 77-35 in the Republican-controlled House, would go further than current Florida law to restrict the rights of transgender individuals in the state and limit what schools can discuss and teach about sex.
The bill would force K-12 public schools to define sex as “an immutable biological trait” and says it is “false” to use a pronoun that doesn’t correspond to that sex. It would ban teachers from using their preferred pronouns when talking to a student, and it also says that schools cannot require teachers or students to refer to another person by their preferred pronouns if they differ from that person’s sex at birth.
Under the bill, any materials used by schools as part of sex education curriculum would have to be approved by the state Department of Education.
The existing law, signed last year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom through third grade or in an age-appropriate manner for older grades. Democrats, LGBTQ groups and some businesses, most notably Disney, objected to the measure, which opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
DeSantis argued at the time that young children should not be exposed to concepts such as gender identity. However, his administration this month proposed extending the prohibition through high school.
A Senate version of the House bill passed received a favorable recommendation from a committee on March 20 and is awaiting further action.
The bill that passed Friday would also give parents and citizens more power to challenge classroom materials they consider pornographic or believe contain sexual conduct. Schools would have five days to remove any book that is challenged. Schools must hold public meetings to determine whether the material should be allowed. If a parent disagrees with the decision, the school will have to pay for a special magistrate picked by the state Department of Education to review the material and make a determination.