Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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‘Don’t Say Gay’ Strikes Fear In Teachers and Students of All Ages

Colored crayons with headline: Don't say gay: problematic for students and teachers of all ages
Photo: Katie Rainbow via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

TALAHASSEE, FL – Despite being aimed at children in kindergarten through third grade, Florida teachers say what's often referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law has struck fear in teachers and students of all grades.

Billed as an effort to give parents more control over the types of instruction allowed in classrooms, the Parental Rights in Education Act prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity up to the third grade. But since it went into effect in July, Erika Houvouras, a high school English teacher, said the law has done nothing but cause stress and confusion for all. 

"I have had students come to me and say, 'Hey, we've been told that if we ask you to call us different pronouns, you have to tell our parents.' And you know, 'If you see us in the halls with someone of the same gender, you have to tell our parents,'" she said. "And I tell them, 'That's never going to happen. You don't have to be concerned about that with me.'"

Houvouras said in group chats with teachers across the state, they're all concerned. Some tell her they are doing their best to make kids feel more comfortable, while others have gone as far as removing portions of literature they would usually cover and limiting class discussions because they're concerned about "getting in trouble."

Houvouras said she hadn't seen a single message from district leaders on how to navigate classroom discussions - especially when kids are the ones driving the discussions and asking for explanations, including about the debate around the controversial issue.

"The more strident parts we were hearing have been dialed back a little bit in the actual verbiage of the bill, but there's still that concern there," she said. "There's an obvious effort to limit the acceptability of a community of people - which my students do not feel OK with, at all."

She said the law has sent shockwaves that extend far beyond limiting class discussions for younger kids. She said that most of her students are either 18 or close to it. If gender identity or sexual orientation topics come up in any literature and her students ask questions, she expects she will continue to answer.

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