Florida teachers and school boards will have to be very careful now that the Florida legislature has passed the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
It's actually called the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, and it addresses a number of issues. The big one, the most controversial one, is meant to keep teachers and schools from discussing LGBT issues in class. But that's not quite what it says.
Here's the provision:
Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.
Nowhere does the bill define either "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" to limit those terms to only LGBT issues. So we're left with the standard definitions of those terms.
Websters defines "sexual orientation" as "a person's sexual identity or self-identification as bisexual, straight, gay, pansexual, etc.: the state of being bisexual, straight, gay, pansexual, etc."
Yes. Straight is included. Heterosexual is included.
Websters defines "gender identity" as "a person's internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female."
Yes, people born male and identifying as male are included. People born female and identifying as female are included.
As I read this, strictly construing the actual words used in the statute, there can be no instruction in K-3rd grade using the terms "boys," "girls," "husband," "wife," "mother," or "father." All instruction must be completely gender-neutral, using "they" or "them." Students cannot be instructed to use the "boy's room" or the "girl's room." For gym, they cannot be instructed to use the "boy's locker room" or the "girl's locker room."
Is this what the legislature intended? Probably not. It was intended as a measure to bully LGBT students and their parents. But I think those parents can fight back by demanding absolute gender neutrality in their student's education in K-3. Once they're in 4th grade, the school can then instruct them about gender identity, including boy/girl, and sexual orientation, including heterosexuality.
So when teachers tell their students to draw a picture of their families, they can say the picture is of a parent, but not mom or dad. When teachers discuss married couples in history, they can say they were spouses, not husband or wife. And maybe that's the way it should be.
I think parents of LGBT should demand their rights under this statute once it's signed by the governor. If my kids were still in school, I'd do it immediately. Tell the Florida legislature to be careful what they wish for.
Under the rest of the bill, there's a process. School districts must develop a plan and notify parents of the process to address any concerns, first at the school level, and then at the district level. Then, if not resolved, the parent may either ask for an administrative magistrate to hear the issue or file a lawsuit.
Teachers should advise the schools that they will only teach in gender-neutral terms. School boards should set policies in accordance with the actual language of this bill.
Teachers who object to any other form of non-gender-neutral instruction can argue they are protected whistleblowers if they are disciplined for refusing to disobey this ridiculous law.