SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The controversial Florida bill that’s been dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passed through its final committee hearing Monday. House Bill 1557 will now go to the full Senate floor for a vote.
People from across the state traveled to Tallahassee Monday for their final chance to speak out on the proposed legislation.
Two students from Sarasota were among several others who signed up for public comment.
“If this bill passes, it will not only harm queer youth, but start our state on a path to disenfranchise the entire queer population,” said one Sarasota student named Anya.
“If you are doing this for families or for parents, they can’t tell. I have met organizers and activists who can feel the bigger picture materializing around us. We are not just a state, we are part of a nation and as such, the outcome of this bill sets a precedent,” said Pine View student Zander Moricz. “They fear that if Florida takes the step backwards, other states will join in a march that reverses the progress my community has pleaded and died for,” the teen continued.
Less than 24-hours before speaking in Tallahassee, Moricz was participating in a ‘Say Gay’ rally in Sarasota. Hundreds of people participated in the protest against HB 1557. The group also tried to make a statement as they held a 700-foot Progress Pride flag across the John Ringling Causeway Sunday.
“While they are fighting for a bill, we are fighting for our lives,” said the teen at the rally.
The ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill would ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
State Senator Jeffrey Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed an amendment — and later a substitute amendment clarifying its language — to the bill on Friday. The substitute amendment would have replaced the ban on classroom instruction about “sexual orientation or gender identity” with the words “human sexuality or sexual activity.”
“This accomplishes the goal without targeting anyone,” Brandes said last week.
“Equality Florida believes this amendment is a step in the right direction. We have already spent about 20 minutes this morning trying to debate over a single coloring book page and heard some very conflicting responses. We think that this amendment brings important clarity and specificity to the bill. We ask that you support it,” said John Harris with Equality Florida Monday.
The amendment did not move forward.
“The world is watching. Do not erase our community, do not erase our history. It is always age-appropriate to talk about the fact that we exist, to see us. How are we fighting on this in 2022,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders. Saunders was the first openly gay Floridian to be sworn into the Florida House of Representatives ten years ago.
Despite pushback during public comment, HB 1557 was passed in a 12-8 vote.
“This does one simple thing, it decides who is in charge and I believe it is imperative if we love children, that we put parents in charge,” said companion bill sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley.
If passed into law, it would go into effect before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.