Florida Decides To Extend LGBT School Censorship to All Grades After All

This was never about shielding just the youngest kids from sexual topics.


Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law may actually earn its nickname as the state considers an Education Department proposal to ban almost all instruction about LGBT issues in all grades.

When Florida lawmakers passed H.B. 1557 last year with the support and encouragement of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the text of the bill forbid educators and schools from encouraging any sort of discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten through third grade.

Opponents of the bill called it a "Don't Say Gay" law. Many media outlets accepted the shorthand description, while some conservatives objected to the label and accused the media of misleading people. Those who defended the bill noted that the censorship only applied to the youngest of students and that the purpose was to postpone discussions on sexuality to a more appropriate age.

But Reason took note at the time of H.B. 1557's potential to extend this censorship far beyond K-3 classes. Its text didn't just ban LGBT discussions in early grades—it also banned any instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in any grade "that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students." The bill itself did not give any definition of what would or would not be appropriate for different ages or grades. That would be something leaders at the Florida Department of Education would have to hammer out later.

It's been a year since the law passed, and this week, Education Department leaders submitted a proposed rule for how sexual orientation and gender identity could be taught in all grade levels in the state—or more accurately, a proposed rule for how those topics will not be taught in schools. Under the state's "Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida," leaders say teachers:

Shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards as adopted in Rule 6A-1.09401, F.A.C., or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student's parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.

So, the warnings were, indeed, correct. H.B. 1557 was intended ultimately to significantly restrict the circumstances under which sexual orientation and gender identity may be discussed in all public school classrooms in the state. This is censorship.

I took a glance at Florida's education standards in social studies. On their list of benchmarks updated in 2022, it calls for teaching high-schoolers how Nazis rounded up homosexuals along with Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust. High school psychology classes are also expected to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. But those are the only references in the state's 86-page description of standards for classes ranging from history to civics to humanities courses. There are exactly five references to sexual orientation, gender identity, or homosexuality.

And so the inclination here would be to say, "Well, the school districts will still be teaching about sexual orientation in these relevant contexts, right?" Not so fast. The Department of Education has just submitted a plan to update the state's social studies standards to remove four benchmarks for grades nine through 12, and while the request doesn't list which benchmarks are being removed (there will be a hearing in April) the department lists the criteria of H.B. 1557 as the reason for their removal.

I attempted to get the list of benchmarks being removed directly from the administrator who submitted the proposed changes but ended up getting funneled to the Department of Education's communications office, which directed me to send an email request for more information. As of publication, the department has not responded.

I don't want to make assumptions, but it would be reasonable given the context to predict that the proposed changes would be to remove the standards in the psychology section that call for teachers to educate students about sexual orientation and gender identity. If that's the case, deleting these standards and applying the proposed rule mentioned above would forbid psychology teachers from teaching high school students about what is arguably a core topic in that field.

These proposed rule changes aren't just about making sure teachers discuss sexual orientation and gender identity only when it is appropriate. Evidence suggests that Florida officials are attempting to censor LGBT discussions in classrooms as much as they possibly can. The "Don't Say Gay" label is becoming more and more apt as time goes by.