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From drag shows to pronouns: Florida GOP takes aim at LGBTQ issues

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“It is maddening and it is sad to see the continuous attack of people who are quote unquote, other,” state Rep. Michell Raynor-Goolsby, a Democrat from St. Petersburg and the state’s first Black female queer legislator, said in an interview. “And that is what we’re seeing in this legislature, in this body, through the different types of legislation that is passed by the majority.”

Florida’s Legislature is known for fulfilling DeSantis’ big priorities, such as approving last year’s redistricting maps that gave the GOP a 20-8 congressional seat advantage over Democrats. But legislators are now in overdrive ahead of DeSantis’ expected 2024 presidential announcement — just four weeks into the 60-day annual session, lawmakers already sent a handful of bills to the governor. And the culture war focused bills on gender identity and sexual identity will give DeSantis a list of legislative victories he can use while campaigning for the conservative base.

A spokesperson said the DeSantis administration doesn’t typically comment on pending legislation, but in general stated that the governor “is a staunch defender of a parent’s right to be informed about and involved in their child’s education; believes that sexually explicit content is not appropriate to display to children; and believes that children should not be encouraged to physically or chemically alter their bodies for life.”

Republican lawmakers in the supermajority claim their intent is to protect kids and improve education, not discriminate. Members of LGBTQ community, however, contend they’re being slighted and disenfranchised by the legislation that GOP lawmakers are rapidly advancing in the Capitol.

GOP Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said that lawmakers are legislating issues that children should not have to face in the first place.

“We need to stop all of this stuff, whether it’s these crazy books that are on library shelves, and just focus on reading, math and core knowledge to succeed in life,” Renner said in an interview. “That is a bipartisan issue — something we all agree with.”

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Gender identity and sexual orientation

One of the bills lawmakers are considering would expand Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, labeled by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.” This proposal is set to broaden the state’s prohibition on teaching about sexual identity and gender orientation to pre-k through eighth grade. It also targets how school staff and students can use pronouns on K-12 campuses, stipulating that it would be “false to ascribe” someone with a pronoun that “does not correspond to such person’s sex.”

Florida’s Department of Education is also looking to broaden “Don’t Say Gay” to 12th grade, a proposal that doesn’t need legislative approval and has drawn objections from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates.

Opponents of the legislation, such as advocacy groups Equality Florida and PRISM, claim it is effectively expanding the “censorship and attacks” on LGBTQ families in the state from last year’s law. They point to “sweeping censorship” that followed in 2022, like schools asking teachers to hide pictures of same-sex spouses from their desks.

“You have the choice to uplift students, to let them feel seen or heard, to learn about the reality of our world, or … to erase 25 percent of students in schools today from their classrooms,” Maxx Fenning, a University of Florida student and president of PRISM, and LGBTQ advocacy group, recently told lawmakers.

Republican legislators, however, argue that the intent of the parental rights law has been misinterpreted. Instead, they blame local school districts for “abusing” last year’s legislation that was meant to regulate classroom instruction by misinterpreting and politicizing the issue.

“What many school districts have done with that bill is terrible,” state GOP Rep. Randy Fine said during a bill hearing Thursday. “Because they have acted in bad faith to take a bill that they knew did not do those things. And, in order to try to score political points, they have actually done what they say they’re trying to stop to hurt people.”

Florida conservatives also are criticizing advocacy groups, claiming they are helping “blow out of proportion” the effects of the legislation by also politicizing the issue. As a result, Republican lawmakers claim naysayers are only hearing one side of the debate, maintaining that the proposal “doesn’t do anything to hurt children, but to protect children.”

“Opponents of this bill, especially the media, they want you to believe a manufactured narrative, one that they created, one that contradicts the substance and the purpose of this good bill,” said state Rep. Adam Anderson (R-Palm Harbor), a cosponsor of the House’s parental rights expansion.

But many Democrats disagree and see it as an attempt by DeSantis to excite the conservative base and, ultimately, win the GOP 2024 presidential nomination.

“The governor will be filing for president soon,” Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell told reporters Monday. “Our suspicion is that he wants to get as many of his priorities out of the way so that they will already be passed, and perhaps he can even sign them into law before he makes his announcement.”

Drag shows

Republican lawmakers are also pushing legislation that will ban children from attending drag shows with “lewd” performances, an effort that comes after DeSantis called for tighter regulations and said such events “sexualize” kids.

In February, the DeSantis administration filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation for hosting “A Drag Queen Christmas,” a performance advertised for all ages that the state alleged was explicit and inappropriate for children. But the Miami Herald found that undercover state agents attending the event reported that they saw nothing indecent at the show.

Democrats contend the legislation aims to scare drag performers and the LGBTQ community while performers testified that the bill was an all-out attack on the drag community.

Renner said the efforts by Republicans on gender dysphoria and drag shows were in response to what he claimed are adults pushing their lifestyles on children.

“I think the point of our members, and our side of the aisle, is let kids be kids,” Renner said. “There’s a time for them to make decisions about sexual issues, and they will do so and we will support whatever their decision is when they become adults.”

During a Friday House committee meeting, Fine, the sponsor of the drag show bill, said he would fight for drag performers even if he isn’t interested in watching them. “I don’t want to go, but I will fight like hell to make sure you can do it,” Fine said. “But leave the children out of it.”

In fighting against bills advancing through the Legislature, Democrats say that conservatives are slighting the LGBTQ community in an attempt to increase the rights for parents. Policies like restricting the use of pronouns are ostracizing students, making them feel like refugees in their own country, said state Rep. Marie Woodson (D-Hollywood).

“I’m from Haiti, I know what it feels like,” Woodson said. “I know how it feels to be disrespected, I know how it feels not be acknowledged, I know how it feels to … feel different than anybody else. And this is how those kids are feeling, they cannot be themselves. Who am I to judge them?”

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( With inputs from : www.politico.com )

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