A Florida bill, HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education, has recently earned a great deal of media attention – detractors have given the bill the moniker “Don’t Say Gay” and blasted it on their news sites, blogs, and Twitter accounts. The Florida Senate passed HB 1557 on March 8th with twenty-two yeas and seventeen nays. Senators voted almost entirely along party lines – Republicans voted yea and Democrats voted nay, with the exception of Republican Senators Bradley and Brandes, who voted nay.
The sheer volume of outrage generated by this bill begs the question, what was so awful about it? The activist group Occupy Democrats framed it as an “anti-LGBTQ” bill designed to censor school teachers. This sentiment seems to be common in the media – news organizations that have referred to HB 1557 as “The Don’t Say Gay Bill” include NBC, AP News, ABC, Time, NPR, Vox, BBC, The New York Times, Independent, The Guardian, Forbes, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, Slate, CBS, Politico, Healthline, and many others. Even some major companies have entered the fray – most notably Marvel and its parent company Disney. Marvel denounced legislation that “infringes on the basic human rights of the LGBTQIA+ community” while Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek has pledged $5 million to “LGBTQ” causes to demonstrate opposition to HB 1557.
This coordinated media carpet bombing of the phrase “Don’t Say Gay” is strange, because a simple word search of the bill’s text reveals that the words “gay,” “homosexual,” and “LGBT” do not appear at any point. Most of the bill is related to parental involvement, notification, and rights. Only lines 97-101 in the bill reference sexuality at all:
“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.”
That is it. This single sentence set off a raging fire in the hearts of elected Democrats and their allies in the media and popular culture. They are absolutely appalled, offended, and threatened by the new law that says classroom instruction about sex and gender cannot be age inappropriate for kindergarten through third grade. That was what prompted Marvel to breathlessly opine about human rights – the restriction regarding inappropriately speaking to kindergarteners about sexual topics. Informed citizens must wonder why so many politicians, teachers, activists, personalities, and entertainment companies consider it a sacred right to speak to kindergarteners about sex. Marvel took an aggressive stance on this bill while they simultaneously produce content for children, teens, and young adults – a worrying combination. In response to this backlash, supporters of HB 1557 reframed the bill as an “anti-grooming” bill, which opponents like Occupy Democrats were appalled by.
One more troubling aspect of the controversy around this bill is that it has only seven easy-to-understand pages. Simply reading HB 1557 will immediately reveal that the popular “Don’t Say Gay” framing is bogus; there is little room for misinterpretation, leaving the implication that many journalists intentionally deceived their readers.
Those who protested the bill without reading it should reevaluate their process of forming opinions and the list of people that they trust; those who understood the bill and protested regardless should do some self-introspection. Demanding the right to talk about sexual topics with small children is a bad hill to die on.