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National News

Florida lawmakers pass controversial so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Florida lawmakers have passed a controversial bill that would prohibit discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools. Opponents have dubbed this the Don't Say Gay bill, and Governor Ron DeSantis has said he will sign it into law.

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RON DESANTIS: You know, there's a line of thought in our country right now that parents shouldn't be involved in what their kids are learning in school. I reject that.

CHANG: That's DeSantis echoing the main point that supporters of this bill have been making - that parents should choose what their children learn and don't learn in school. Well, Danielle Prieur from member station WMFE in Orlando has been talking with students and teachers who oppose the bill.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: Hundreds of students poured out of Winter Park High School Monday to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies, including the so-called Don't Say Gay bill. They carried signs that read, protect trans kids, and, our existence is not immoral, and waved giant rainbow flags as they chanted...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Hey. We say gay. Hey. We say gay. Hey. We say gay.

PRIEUR: Will Larkins, a junior, led the protest.

WILL LARKINS: This is a peaceful demonstration to show the Florida legislature that what they're doing does not represent us.

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LARKINS: Power to the people.

PRIEUR: Larkins says he's traveled to Tallahassee multiple times to speak with legislators about putting more protections in place for LGBTQ kids like him.

LARKINS: I've had to fight for my right to exist since I was in kindergarten, you know? I was already, like, outwardly feminine. And I had to fight for my right to exist in my school, and it hasn't stopped. And I know that most likely, it won't stop. I'll never stop fighting, and it's exhausting.

PRIEUR: Larkins says even though the bill hasn't become law yet, it's already done damage.

LARKINS: Ron DeSantis and the Republicans in the Senate and Senator Baxley and everyone who's contributing to these anti-diversity bills are giving these hateful, awful, bigoted people a voice.

PRIEUR: Larkins' friend Maddi Zornek says people need to keep speaking up long after this legislative session ends to counteract that hate. Zornek points to the upside-down rainbow pin she's wearing on her shirt.

MADDI ZORNEK: This is in honor of Pulse nightclub. We all wore our ribbons upside down to show that the LGBTQ+ community is in distress and that they're being targeted and that this is not OK. And we need to flip this right back up. We need to protect these people. We need to protect this community.

PRIEUR: Zornek says she's an ally, but this issue is particularly close to her heart.

ZORNEK: I've grown up with LGBTQ people around me. My brother is gay, so seeing him go through this and seeing the hate towards that community really upsets me. And this is not right. This is not moral. It's not constitutional.

PRIEUR: Drama teacher J. Marie Bailey says she's also mom to a transgender kid and is proud of her students for demonstrating, but she worries about the future of her profession.

J MARIE BAILEY: There's a lot of legislation coming down that is continuing to dismantle the beautiful profession of education. I love my students, but I cannot feel safe and free to do what I need to do with my students with all this legislation.

PRIEUR: Bailey says anti-LGBTQ legislation in Florida like this bill makes it harder for her to protect and teach all of her students. She's so upset, she's considering running for office herself. For NPR News, I'm Danielle Prieur in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANANA SONG, "FAST DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.