Florida moves to ban LGBTQ books

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov / Pexels
Photo by Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

LGBTQ literature took another hit this week when the Florida Senate Education Committee committee met on January 25 to discuss several proposed bills that will make it easier for parents to challenge and ban LGBTQ+ books in public schools.

One was proposed by state Sen. Joe Gruters, who explained that his bill will make it easier for concerned parents to challenge library books. "A parent... can make a complaint to their local principal, and if the principal agrees, they will pull that material," he said. "If there's complaints and nothing happens, eventually it would move to the local school board, and they would make a decision."

Support for conservative censorship
Some argued that giving parents the chance to override a school principal's decision gives them too much say in what is best for the whole school. Committee members also brought up concerns that the bill would put more work and strain on public school librarians, who are already underpaid, by requiring them to log all school materials into a public access database.

However, many parents in attendance voiced their agreement with the bill. Amanda Silvestri gave her support, saying, "I have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, and some of the books we have come across are deeply concerning, and if we can't fix it, we're going to have to do something or my children are out of here."

Image courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.  

Another parent, Karen Moran, shared Silvestri's sentiments. "I'm here today because I'm concerned about the content in the schools. We have porn, we have critical race, we have gender confusion, and other objectionable materials in our schools," Moran said. She continued by describing the experience of a high schooler who she claimed was forced to take a class specifically on oral sex. She then began reading from a copy of It Feels Good to Be Yourself, a children's book about gender identity, which she claimed her local library had 112 copies of.

"It said that here was a gender identity [that's] neither a boy or a girl. He was like a multiple person, and so it's causing gender confusion with our kids, and it should not be in our libraries, and we should not be funding this, and we need to get all these books out, and we need help to get them out," Moran declared. "I think this bill is a great method to get these books out and make people know what's going on."

More than just parents gathered to voice their support for the proposed bill. Brenda Farm, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, spoke on behalf of several clients. "I get phone calls all day long, all week long, from parents that are frustrated, they're upset, they're hurt, they're disappointed, they don't trust the schools anymore or the teachers. It goes back to the materials here," Farm said.

She then told the senators about a first-grader who had come to his mother in tears because he thought he would be forced to marry a man when he grew up. "He got more hysterical and upset and said, 'The teacher said it's the law!'" she recalled, using animated voices and hand gestures. "This little boy has been traumatized, and please don't look down like you don't care, you should care about this!" She said the public school has been showing "LGBQT" cartoons to the children without having to get consent from parents and as a result, the children are being traumatized.

Opposition to the bill
Only one audience member spoke out against the proposed bill, reminding those in attendance that "there is a rule where a parent can require that their child can't check out any book from the library." She asked other attendees to consider censoring their own children, but not removing books or media from school libraries, as that will prevent all children from accessing materials that may be very important to them.

"I don't think you should ban books because someone is bothered, because the reality is, there are Transgender kids. The reality is, it's the biology of sexual orientation; we're not all heterosexuals. Most people, I would hope, with a loving heart, are not offended by that," she said.

While the bill ultimately passed the committee, with all the Republican senators voting in favor of it, several other members of the committee voiced their adamant disproval.

Sen. Tina Polsky — Photo by Steve Cannon / AP  

"The point of education is to open our eyes beyond the world that we live in. There are Nonbinary children in your schools and classrooms. It's okay if there's a book that's different," said Sen. Tina Polsky. She went on to reiterate the idea that parents interested in censorship can and should censor their own children, but not remove learning materials for everyone. She also addressed Moran's claims about sex education, stating, "There are not courses in sex acts. Do not confuse health education with pornography."

"If you don't like what you see in the schools, then don't go. Homeschool your kid. If you want them insulated so much that they shouldn't learn about the outside world, then you should homeschool them, or you can send them to a religious private school," she said. "I am severely offended by the homophobia in this room."

Sen. Lori Berman also voiced her disproval of the bill, saying, "We are starting down the path of censorship, and it's an authoritarian action, and I don't understand why we would want to risk reaching that slope."

Sen. Shevrin Jones — Photo by Steve Cannon / AP  

The final word of disproval came from the only openly Gay senator on the committee, Sen. Shevrin Jones. "I don't care what you may try to do to think you are protecting [the children]; the one thing you are obligated to do is to do like my mother and my father did, and that is to love them for who they are," he said.

"So, I'm not going to speak about the politics of this, because all of that is going to go out the window eventually. My ask is that as you all speak, just realize that there are individuals that hear you, that might be in the shoe of someone your words are hurtful towards. And it's not me, because I'll be fine. I'm a grown man and I can take care of myself, and my colleagues love me and such. But I want to just put it out there to you all that as you go and advocate for your children, be careful in how you advocate to make sure you are not harming anyone. My dad always taught my brothers and [me] that when you lead, and even when you speak, lead and speak with love. Thank you."

"Don't Say Gay"
This new bill was debated on the heels of the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which is also being debated in the Florida legislature. This bill would give Florida parents the right to sue school boards if LGBTQ topics that are not deemed "age appropriate" by parents are even discussed in the classroom.

"This bill is about defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent. That job can only be given to you by above," Rep. Joe Harding, who introduced the bill in the House, said in front of the committee.

This bill has gained media attention from opponents calling it out as dangerous. "This will kill kids," LGBTQ+ advocate Chasten Buttigieg tweeted.

"This bill will erase young LGBTQ+ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face," said Sam Ames, director of advocacy for the Trevor Project.

While these laws may only affect Florida LGBTQ students at the moment, they send a message beyond state borders. Censorship tells Queer youth that they are still controversial, their existence is still up for debate, and that there are people powerful enough to silence their voices.

As Sen. Berman said, censorship is a slippery slope. As there are conservative pockets in all US states, such censorship might prevent LGBTQ+ youth from receiving the validation and support that they may only find through books.