TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An expansion of Florida's controversial "Parental Rights in Education" law took a first step toward final passage Tuesday.
Republicans in a House subcommittee advanced HB 1223, which limits the use of preferred pronouns in schools and further prohibits instruction on gender education.
You might remember the initial version of the legislation, which passed last year, HB 1557 and critics called the "Don't Say Gay" bill. They now have a new nickname for its successor, "Don't Say They."
If signed by the governor, HB 1223 expands current K-3 restrictions on the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity, taking it through eighth grade. Teachers would also be prohibited from providing or asking a student for preferred pronouns.
"Teachers are at risk of losing their job, and this does protect them," Rep. Adam Anderson, R-Tarpon Springs, the bill's House sponsor, said.
Anderson believed limits on pronouns could shield educators from controversy. He said the rest of the bill provides parents more control over when to discuss sex and gender with their kids.
"It lets teachers get back to the reason they became teachers in the first place," Anderson said. "It gets our education system back to the reason we send our children to school in the first place— that's to learn about math, science, history and reading."
The subcommittee's GOP majority unanimously voted in favor of the bill. That was despite pleas from teachers, students and parents of transgender children, like Melinda Stanwood, a Tallahassee mother.
"I'm absolutely overwhelmed," Stanwood said. "Absolutely feeling crushed, feeling devastated, feeling betrayed by my state."
She and many others in attendance worried final approval of HB 1223 would further marginalize LGBTQ+ students and educators, an already vulnerable group.
"Queer children are four times more likely to commit suicide," warned state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, in debate.
Nixon denounced the policy as little more than an attempt to score political points with the Republican base. She urged colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote down on the measure.
"I take my oath seriously," Nixon said. "I don't want blood on my hands and neither should any of us."
Despite Democratic opposition, the bill will move to its second Republican-controlled committee, one step away from the House floor.
There is a similar Senate version of the policy. Like the House bill, it also faces two committee stops. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had yet to receive a date for discussion.