TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A piece of controversial legislation that would ban curriculum related to sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grades is heading to Governor Ron DeSantis' desk.
The Florida Senate passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have branded the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, Tuesday. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law.
It passed the Senate by a 22 to 17 vote, with Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Senator Jennifer Brandley (R-Orange Park) voting against party lines.
It comes after student walk outs across Florida and protests against the bill.
“It's a sad day for Florida," Dan Merkan, Director of Policy for JASMYN, a group that supports LGBTQ youths, said. "We're taking a step backward."
"It's a really bad bill and it never should have passed. It's the start of, you know, just unthinkable intrusions into, you know, freedom under the guise of parental rights," Merkan added.
The bill says parents should be in control of their children's education and wellbeing. It also says classroom instruction on "sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade may not occur, and instruction on those topics in older grades must be age appropriate.
Merkan worries the legislation could hurt LGBTQ youths.
"We're really doing harm to young people that are LGBT by, you know, basically stigmatizing and discriminating against the whole categories of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we're putting teachers in, you know, untenable situations," Merkan said.
"For the very youngest people, when a lot of things are forming about how they understand the world, the only source of information they're going to get is what's in the air around them. But what's in the air around them, unfortunately, a lot of times this stuff that's around is talking about LGBT stuff is not necessarily very positive," Merkan added. "Some families will reinforce negative stereotypes about gay and lesbian people, and there's not going to be opportunities for instructors or educators to tell young people something different, and that's going to lead to problems."
Merkan said he has a message for students regarding Tuesday's news.
“All is not lost," he said. "Unfortunately, this is a bad bill, but young people, you have the rights to speak up and talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in your schools. This bill is about restricting instruction, but you can bring these topics up as much as you like, and empower yourselves to create the world that you want to live in."
To LGBT students in particular, Merkan had this message.
"There are people out there that care about you. You are important and you matter, and there are people that will love you just as you are. So, seek out those people and get the support that you need," Merkan said.
First Coast News asked DeSantis about the bill when he was in Jacksonville a few days ago. DeSantis signaled his support for it, saying, "Do you really want them being taught about sexual ... and this is any sexual stuff, but I think clearly right now we see a lot of focus on the transgenderism, telling kids that they may be able to pick genders and all of that. I don't think parents want that," DeSantis said.
Merkan said JASMYN offers support groups for young people ages 13 and up, support for students that want to form a gay straight alliance or a gender sexuality club in their schools and sexual health clinics.