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Leon County teacher, student say education bills will hurt LGBTQ+ community

Posted at 7:40 PM, Apr 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-20 13:03:36-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — A six-person panel of educators, teachers, activists and social workers said they are not backing down in their fight against what they say is anti-LGBTQ+ education legislation.

Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign hosted a round-table conversation about the impact of bills like HB 1069 and 1223, dubbed the Parental Rights in Education bill by the GOP and the expanded "Don't say Gay" by Democrats.

Springwood Elementary first-grade teacher Shari Gewander said this is alarming to her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. However, she is not going to stop being her true self and giving students a chance to do so too.

"I will never be worried to be who I am," Gewander said. "But, I worry about how I present myself in the world and how that might effect my ability to continue my livelihood, To continue to follow my passion, which is to teach, especially to teach young children."

Gewander has been teaching elementary school students for nineteen years in Leon County.

As an openly gay woman, she said that she has not has issues regarding her sexuality in school until now.

"That's always been great, for 24 years," Gewander said. "And all of that is in question right now."

That is in question by House Bills 1223 and 1069.

Bills that prompted Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign to hold a roundtable conversation this afternoon.

HB 1223 bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-8, with limitations on that instruction for older grades.

House Bill 1069 does the same, but also gives requirements for books in classrooms and calls for removal in some instances.

While Gewander said she does not teach anything regarding sexuality to her young students, 16-year-old Florida Virtual School student Samira Burnside said she worries about older students not learning about the LGBTQ+ community.

"When we start to lose our histories, when we are no longer being taught about our struggles in school, no longer seeing our faces in history, those cis kids right and those other kids won't know about us, won't think of us as real," Burnside said. "We will lose even more of that person-hood."

Person-hood that Gewander said can come from representation from teachers and the ability to confide in educators.

But, she said she worries this will take that away from many students.

"I am expecting to see some quality teachers leave the profession because of the pressure. I am telling them, stick it out, as best as you possibly can," Gewander said. "Stay in the classroom, keep on teaching. Keep on doing what we know is best for our students."

Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign hosted that conversation between panelists like Gewander and Burnside in hopes of raising awareness so this bill does not become law.

If it does pass, people at the roundtable conversation today said they will not back down.