Biden Administration Officials Meet with Florida Students about 'Don't Say Gay'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 18, 2022

State lawmakers pushing Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill have not signaled interest in hearing what students (who stand to be affected by the measure) have to say, but the Biden administration has.

"Biden administration officials held a closed-door meeting Thursday with several Florida LGBTQ students and their families" to discuss the legislation, NBC News reported.

"At Thursday's virtual roundtable, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and the assistant secretary of health and human services for health, Dr. Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, reaffirmed support for LGBTQ youths and their families," the report went on to say.

Cardona assured students and their parents that although "Laws around the country, including in Florida, have targeted and sought to bully some of our most vulnerable students and families and create division in our schools...this administration won't stand for bullying or discrimination of any kind, and we will use our authorities to protect, support, and provide opportunities for LGBTQI+ students and all students."

"The legislation — officially named the Parental Rights in Education Act — would prohibit 'classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity' in Florida primary schools," NBC added.

The news item quoted high-schooler Javier Gomez, who said, "Being an LGBTQ student in Florida is already incredibly difficult due to bullying from fellow students and peers."

"This legislation will compound this problem and make life even more difficult for LGBTQ students," Gomez added.

Critics of the bill point out that sex education is not part of the curriculum at grade levels the bill specifies, and worry that if the bill becomes law students at all levels of K-12 education will be affected, with LGBTQ+ youth marginalized, students with same-sex parents or other LGBTQ+ family members silenced, and teachers intimidated into submission by a provision in the bill that encourages parents to bring suit.

So far, however, submission and silence has been far from the general response. Students around Florida have staged walkouts in protest of the bill, as have employees of Disney, which employs thousands of Floridians but only belatedly condemned the measure.

Teachers, too, have spoken out against it. A recent poll showed that "Don't Say Gay" and similar bills being promoted by Republican state lawmakers around the country are unpopular with a majority of Americans.

President Biden himself came out against the bill, tweeting last month that it is "hateful." White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the lawmakers pushing the measure were responsible for "legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most."

On a local level, at least one mayor — Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Maimi-Dade, who is the mother of a gay child herself — expressed solidarity with students protesting the bill.

Florida's Republican legislators, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled his support for the "Don't Say Gay" bill — which lawmakers sent to his desk last week — have stuck by their messaging, claiming that the bill protects parental rights.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.