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Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Amendment Outing LGBT Kids

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"The sponsor of the "Don't Say Gay" bill in the Florida House, [Florida state Rep. Joe Harding], just introduced an amendment that would REQUIRE SCHOOLS TO OUT LGBTQ STUDENTS even if the school believes THE DISCLOSURE WILL RESULT IN 'ABUSE, ABANDONMENT, OR NEGLECT'" in February 2022.

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On February 21 2022, several Imgur posts featured tweet by journalist Judd Legum, which contained a claim that a proposed amendment to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bills would mandate that students’ sexual preferences be “outed”:

In the February 20 2022 tweet, Legum wrote:

BREAKING: The sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the Florida House, [Florida State Rep. Joe Harding], just introduced an amendment that would REQUIRE SCHOOLS TO OUT LGBTQ STUDENTS even if the school believes THE DISCLOSURE WILL RESULT IN “ABUSE, ABANDONMENT, OR NEGLECT”

What is Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill?

On February 9 2022, NPR published a story (“‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill would limit discussion of sexuality and gender in Florida schools”) which reported:

Versions of the so-called Parental Rights in Education bill passed a Florida House committee in January [2022] and cleared a Senate committee [in February 2022].

Under the House bill [1557], a Florida school district “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The bill doesn’t specify how “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” would be defined.

The bills would also give parents the ability to sue schools if they believed the schools violated any provisions of the law.

On February 17 2022, Human Rights Watch addressed the then-advancing bill:

On February 17 [2022], a Florida committee advanced a bill that would restrict discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

The bill would ban discussing these issues in primary schools and restrict how they are discussed in other grades if they are deemed “not age-inappropriate.” However, it does not specify what would be considered age-appropriate, or who decides. Any parent could sue their child’s school for compensation for alleged harm if they believe those discussions have occurred. The likely outcome of the bill would be to deter teachers from addressing these issues and to chill open discussions and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

The bill would also require school personnel to notify parents of changes in a student’s physical, mental, or emotional health. It would significantly limit the ability of counselors and teachers to be a confidential resource for students, including LGBT students who may not feel safe or comfortable asking questions about sexual orientation or gender identity to family members.

That same day, the Tampa Bay Times published “Republicans made changes to ‘don’t say gay’ bill. LGBTQ advocates aren’t buying it,” noting that bill sponsor Florida Rep. Joe Harding (R) introduced “more specific” provisions. A House committee then advanced a new version of the bill:

When it was first filed, the bill said school districts may not “encourage classroom discussion” about gender identity or sexuality in a way that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, said he understood how some might find the word “encourage” to be vague. So on Thursday [February 17 2022], a House committee took up — and passed — a new version of House Bill 1557 he hoped would be more specific.

Now, the bill’s language prohibits “classroom instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity for kindergarten through third grade, and in older grades in a way that is not appropriate for students. It ties the definition of “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” to state standards.

“I want folks that oppose the bill to be really clear on what they’re actually opposing,” Harding said. “I want them to go on record to say it’s OK for a six-year-old to have one identity in school and one at home because the school encourages that kind of behavior.”

On February 17 2022, CBS News quoted Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) on the legislation:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who supports the bill, said at a roundtable in Miami on February 7 [2022] that he doesn’t approve of “injecting these concepts about choosing your gender” at schools.

“We’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘Oh, don’t worry. Don’t pick your gender yet. Do all this other stuff.’ They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening,” DeSantis said. “That is entirely inappropriate. Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write. They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics.”

CS/CS/HB 1557 – Parental Rights in Education

As of February 21 2022, a page on myfloridahouse.gov (“CS/CS/HB 1557 – Parental Rights in Education”) provided information about the “Parental Rights in Education” bill or bills.

Little outwardly suggested its provisions would require schools to disclose the sexual orientation of a student, but the portion bolded in the summary could have alluded to the language:

CS/CS/HB 1557 – Parental Rights in Education

General Bill by Judiciary Committee and Education & Employment Committee and Harding (CO-SPONSORS) Borrero; Latvala; Maggard

Parental Rights in Education: Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying student’s parent of specified information; requires such procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.

Effective Date: July 1, 2022

Last Event: Amendment 138729 filed on Friday, February 18, 2022 4:04 PM

Main Amendment Filing Deadline: Friday, February 18, 2022 4:00 PM

Adhering Amendment Filing Deadline: Friday, February 18, 2022 7:00 PM

Legum’s tweet included an image, in which two excerpts of what was presumably the legislative amendments proposed by Harding appeared. Legum cited a tweet by Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith on February 20 2022, featuring the same image:

Smith’s tweet appeared to feature language in the legislation since amended; a version of the bill that was live on February 21 2022 [PDF] contained the language in one of the two images. The document indicated that underlined portions were amended additions, and the portion described here was marked as an addition:

School district personnel may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being. This subparagraph does not prohibit a school district from adopting procedures that permit school personnel to withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined in s. 39.01.

However, a separate document amending HB 1557 [PDF] was prefaced with “Representative Harding offered the following,” and dated February 18 2022. It read:

Amendment (with title amendment)
Remove line 82 and insert:

[…] defined in s. 39.01, based solely on child-specific information personally known to the school personnel and as documented and approved by the school principal or his or her designee. The school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent. The plan must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects the parent-child relationship and protects the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student.

[…]

Remove line 21 and insert:

[…] providing construction; requiring school principals or designees to develop a specified plan to disclose certain information to parents within a specified time period; providing requirements for such plans; prohibiting classroom […]

A February 21 2022 WTSP article described the original bill and Harding’s amendment:

Opponents contend [Harding’s amendment] could equate to the forced outing of a child to family members who may not be supportive of their sexual identity. They fear this could put the child at risk of abuse.

House Bill 1557, as it’s written, bars school personnel from discouraging or prohibiting the notification of parents or parental involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being. Such information, however, could be withheld from a student’s parents “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”

But the amendment filed [on February 18 2022] by one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican State Rep. Joe Harding, places a six-week time limit until when information learned by school officials from a student would need to be disclosed to a parent.

It mandates that school personnel “shall develop a plan…to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.

As Harding indicated when he stated that he sought to clarify the reach of the bill, local political outlet Florida Politics initially noted that school administrators were “only permitted to withhold such information from a parent ‘if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.'” A follow-up article on February 21 2022 addressed the amendment in question, reporting:

The current bill, as written, does not allow school policies to block personnel from notifying parents about their child’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring.” However, the bill has an exception, allowing school personnel to decline to relay information to parents “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”

Filed Friday [February 18 2022], if passed, the amendment would seemingly require schools to inform parents within six weeks about such a decision to “withhold such information.” According to the proposed amendment, school staff must first consult with the principal prior to any sensitive conversations.

In that context, it appeared that the amendment had not yet passed as part of the legislation.

Summary

A widely-shared February 20 2022 tweet by Legum asserted that Harding, sponsor of Florida House Bill 1557 (described by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), introduced an amendment that would “require schools to out LGBTQ students even if the school believes the disclosure will result in ‘abuse, abandonment, or neglect.'” Originally, the bill appeared to permit schools to “withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”

Harding’s February 18 2022 amendment (described as not having “passed” as of February 21 2022) held that a “school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan … to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.” Although the bill and amendment in question appeared to be in process at the time, Legum’s tweet accurately described a provision introducing a six-week timeframe during which time school administrators were legally bound to disclose information about LGBTQ students to their parents or legal guardians.