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Florida school board rejects measure to observe LGBTQ History Month, citing concerns about violating Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed sex education law

Sep 8, 2022, 19:28 IST
Business Insider
Roughly 100 people spoke during the Miami-Dade School Board meeting on Wednesday.Kimberly Leonard/Insider
  • The Miami-Dade School Board voted down a new LGBTQ history proposal.
  • The vote came after roughly 100 people spoke publicly, some for and others against.

MIAMI, Florida — The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday evening voted overwhelmingly against a provision on LGBTQ history, with members saying they worried about violating a contentious Florida law limiting classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity backed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The resolution was defeated 8-1 following an emotionally charged afternoon of testimony from the public that included roughly 100 speakers. Had it passed, it would have marked October as LGBTQ History Month and expanded high-school curriculum to include landmark Supreme Court decisions on LGBTQ rights.

The nearly six-hour hearing laid bare the deep divide on the issue, with LGBTQ people, parents, and civil rights groups pleading for recognition and acceptance in classrooms so students would feel less alone.

But a majority of speakers were opponents, who accused the school board of "indoctrination" and "imposing ideology" and said teachers should leave conversations about sexuality and gender identity to parents.

"Parents across America, including in Miami-Dade have been standing up for the principles that their children belong to the parents, not the schools," Bill Thompson, a father of five children, said at the hearing.


The meeting in Miami was the latest example of how schools and families are struggling to navigate Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Critics have dubbed the law "Don't Say Gay," warning that the restrictions could extend to higher grades because the law contains ambiguous language banning such instruction "in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate."

Lucia Baez-Geller, the school board member who introduced the resolution, blamed "misinformation" for the opposition to the measure, saying critics were falsely casting it as a resolution that would create a new LGBTQ history curriculum.

The motion on curriculum changes wouldn't have been binding on classrooms. Instead, it would have the superintendent explore the "feasibility" of offering 12th-grade social studies teachers information and resources about landmark Supreme Court cases on LGBTQ rights.

These would include the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, and the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County decision, which determined that employers cannot fire their workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.


Parents would be allowed to have their children opt out, Baez-Geller said.

"Our teachers will have the opportunity to pick and choose, as they always do, which landmark Supreme Court cases they teach," Baez-Geller said, adding: "We teach these Supreme Court cases because they have shaped the nation, they are the law, and they are what guides our nation today."

Last year, the Miami-Dade School Board approved October as LGBTQ History Month by a 7-1 vote, with one member not present. Baez-Geller said the observance was meant to be "symbolic," applying to after-school activities and student groups, not classroom instruction.

But that argument was not enough to sway fellow board members. Steve Gallon, the vice chair of the school board, said he couldn't support the measure this year — as he had last year — because of the Parental Rights legislation and the vagueness of how LGBTQ History Month would be observed in classrooms. He said he had an "obligation to follow the law" that was separate from "my personal predispositions, my love for all humanity, my commitment to inclusivity and access and representation."

Baez-Geller proposed a motion to add language in the bill specifying that it must comport with the Parental Rights law, but it was struck down.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the inaugural Moms For Liberty Summit at the Tampa Marriott Water Street on July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. DeSantis is up for reelection in the 2022 Gubernatorial race against Democrat Charlie Crist.Octavio Jones/Getty Images

'Our struggle is history'

Ever since the Parental Rights bill was introduced, critics have expressed their concerns about chilling the speech of LGBTQ teachers and about students being bullied or outed to families who don't accept them. Studies show that LGBTQ youth face higher rates of suicide compared to their cisgender or straight peers.

These concerns emerged on Wednesday during public testimonies as speakers said LGBTQ history should be a part of the curriculum.

"The marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people that has been institutionalized to push us to the margins, to strip us of marriage equality — our struggle is real our struggle is history," said Michael Rajner, who identified himself as a Christian who was HIV positive.

"They want to strip us from history," Rajner added. "'Don't Say Gay' is why this crowd is here to oppose this. They do not want us to exist. They want us to kill ourselves. They want us to continue to strip protections from us."

Katrina Duesterhaus, a board member of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, said organizations that opposed Wednesday's measure were "hate groups."


"History is a subject that we as a society cannot afford to downplay, especially for marginalized groups," Duesterhaus said.

School board members repeatedly warned people in attendance not to boo or clap throughout the various testimonies, but the audience mostly ignored the instructions.

Opponents of the new measures warned school board members early on in the hearing that they'd risk violating the Parental Rights law. The law allows for parents to sue school boards that don't comply with the state's restrictions and for schools to pick up the legal tab.

"I could sue all of you because you're violating my rights," threatened Rachel Morales, a mother of two, while speaking before the board.

Conservative organization Moms for Liberty in Miami took to Instagram on Monday, ahead of the vote, calling the LGBTQ proposal a "clear attack and sabotage" of Florida's education laws. The organization appeared to have removed the post by Wednesday evening.


"This is a direct slap across the governor's face as well as to a large part of the community who do not support using the school system to sway the children in any which way regarding sexual identity," Eulalia Maria Jimenez, who chairs the organization, said during the hearing.

But Bryan Griffin, DeSantis' press secretary, told Insider that the observance of LGBTQ History Month would not violate the Parental Rights law. As for the curriculum under consideration, he said, it would depend.

"Curriculum components are entirely dependent upon their specific content and presentation," he said. "The Department of Education would review and determine if there is any divergence with state standards."

A line of people seen outside the Miami-Dade School Board meeting on Wednesday.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

'Terrible scaremongering'

School board hearings generally don't receive much attention, but that changed as parents grew frustrated about virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis has battled school boards over reopenings, mask mandates, and curriculum, often saying schools should be focused on "education not indoctrination" and that parents should have a say in what their children learn. He endorsed 30 school board candidates who supported his education agenda, and 25 prevailed in their races.


Two new conservative members backed by DeSantis were elected to the Miami-Dade school board, but they won't take office until November.

The schools' battles are one of many reasons that GOP circles are abuzz over whether DeSantis will run for the White House in 2024, particularly if former President Donald Trump doesn't enter the race. But he first has to win reelection in Florida in November.

Baez-Geller blamed politics for the failure of her resolution but didn't name DeSantis.

"Unfortunately, the anti-LGBTQ agenda has become a very dominant political wedge used by certain people," she said during the school board meeting.

Marta Pérez, a school board member who lost her reelection in August, said before the public testimonies that the issue was getting "more attention than I believe is necessary" because of "terrible scaremongering." She said she'd received more emails on the matter than any other topic in 22 years, and toward the end of the hearing, she encouraged the board to avoid such topics in the future, which "distracts our community."


"The more we bring social issues to the board, the more you scare parents and the more parents leave" for charter and private schools, she said.

The comments echoed many parents who urged the school board to focus instead on topics such as reading, writing, and math. But Andrea Pita Mendez, 17, the student advisor for the board, urged board members to accept the resolution, saying there was more to being in school than core subjects.

"We see our teachers as our mentors and our guides, and they are there with us eight hours a day and they listen to us," she said.

The school board meeting started at 11 a.m., and the board voted on other matters, including salary increases for administrative roles and recognizing October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The discussion of the LGBTQ measures began around 3 p.m. and lasted until almost 10 p.m., with roughly an hour-long break in the middle to discuss the budget.

Judy Gelber, a high-school social studies teacher in Miami-Dade County, said at the hearing that LGBTQ history had long been "unspoken and hidden."


"I don't understand why this is even controversial or there is any opposition," Gelber said. "This is not about sex. This is not about indoctrination. It's about helping all our young people see we are all one human race with similar hopes and dreams. All kinds of people have made and will continue to make valuable contributions to our world."

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