UPDATE: The amendment to force schools to out their students’ sexual orientation to parents within six weeks was withdrawn by bill sponsor Rep. Joe Harding on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A new amendment to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill would explicitly require schools to inform parents of their child’s sexual orientation, and put a deadline on how soon they must tell the family.
The amendment filed by bill sponsor Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, on Feb. 18 changes the bill to instead not only require disclosure, but requires schools to tell parents within six weeks of learning the student is any sexual orientation other than straight.
Harding originally proposed the legislation, House Bill 1557, on Jan. 11, its first committee vote passed on Jan. 20, though there was heated debate between supporters and opponents among the lawmakers gathered for the hearing.
In the originally filed version, the bill already required schools inform families of their child’s LBTQ+ status, should the student inform a teacher, counselor or other school personnel. However, it left an option for exemption from disclosure, or “outing” as it’s known, for cases where there was a suspicion of the information leading to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Based on the amendment’s instruction, that safety mechanism would be removed.
The amendment instructs revision by replacing the relevant section with protocol for how school leaders can “develop a plan, using all available governmental resources,” to tell parents their child’s sexual orientation “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.”
As written, the amendment does not specify how the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student would be protected, in cases where previously the proposed bill had found it possible for them to experience abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a result of their LGBTQ+ status being known by their family.
It bears mentioning that the state of Florida makes it mandatory for teachers and other school personnel to report cases of abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Family Services.
Requiring schools to report sexual orientation to parents may not always lead to abuse, individual actions of parents and families are unpredictable and are typically a case-by-case situation. The amendments, as filed, do not discuss how mandatory disclosure would affect mandatory abuse reporting by school personnel. It is unclear how the state will deal with cases where outing leads to abuse.
The bill will face a full Florida House vote this week, with 14 amendments to vote in or veto, before it goes to the next step of the legislative process.
One amendment, filed by Rep. Ana Eskamani, D-Orlando, seems aimed directly at the potential negative consequences created by forcibly outing students. If passed with the rest of the bill, the amendment would allow students to sue the Florida Department of Education for damages and attorney fees for causing “irreparable harm” by revealing their sexual orientation.
The Florida Senate Education Committee has reviewed the bill’s companion, Senate Bill 1834, where the version at the time passed on a party-line vote. It has not yet been through another Senate hearing.