Speakers Display Images of Florida Students Impacted by Legislation As Zoom Backgrounds
*Highlights From Advocates & Affected Floridians Included Below*
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Florida, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Education Association and affected Floridians held a press call to discuss how Florida youth and teachers are being affected by the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” legislation signed into law in Florida this week by Gov. DeSantis. The discriminatory and dangerous legislation seeks to silence teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing and isolating LGBTQ+ kids and also undermining existing protections for LGBTQ+ students. The legislation — which has triggered major backlash from educators and students across Florida and the country — would prevent teachers from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all students.
To put the focus on those most directly impacted by the legislation, event speakers and HRC staff displayed images of Florida students during the virtual press briefing rather than appearing on video. The students — each with tape or a hand over their mouth — sought to convey how they feel silenced by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.
HEAR WHAT THESE TEACHERS, ADVOCATES, AND PARENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE DISCRIMINATORY AND UNPOPULAR BILL PASSED IN FLORIDA:
Joni Madison, Human Rights Campaign Interim President
“Each of our speakers today has agreed to put up a photo submitted by students instead of appearing on camera so that we can call attention to the very real fears that this law has sparked in the classrooms and hallways of Florida schools. Let me be clear — every student deserves to be seen. Every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success, and every student deserves leaders who will stand with them, not bully or attack them.”
“Kids have one job when they go to school — that's to learn. Instead, LGBTQ+ kids, the kids who might feel different but they don't know the words yet, will spend their days forced to hide key parts of themselves and their families. … We're calling on Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida to repeal the dangerous and backward ‘Don't Say Gay or Trans’ law and let kids learn."
“As long as this policy is in effect, it is a stain on the state of Florida and an ongoing, unwarranted attack on vulnerable people who did nothing to deserve it.”
Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Executive Director
“As a result of this law, students in Florida may now for the first time be made to feel shame and stigma about their families or their own identities, and we should be clear we're already seeing the harmful effects on the ground in Florida, even before Governor DeSantis signed this bill into law.”
“To all the students across Florida who organized themselves to walk out of class, to hold protests, some of them marched at the Capitol and made legislators walk between them, I just want to say to those leaders, those students, who bear the brunt of this bill — your leadership is going to make all the difference.”
Princess Moss, National Education Association Vice President
“I've worked every level of education and they stand upon one core belief, and that core belief is that every public school student — Black, white, Brown, indigenous, AAPI, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled — every, every, every student should receive the preparation they need to succeed in a diverse world."
“The law leads educators to determine for themselves what they are able to say — a wrong guess could result in a lawsuit. Our LGBTQ+ educators are role models for our LGBTQ+ students.”
“Rather than putting into place harmful laws that create fear and promote dishonesty, Florida should be focused on creating public schools in a place of safety, hope and promise so that every student, every student, every student, and every educator, every educator, every educator, will feel safe, welcomed, encouraged, and supported."
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director
“Every student deserves to feel safe, to feel protected, and to feel like they belong. Unfortunately, this ‘Don't Say Gay or Trans’ Bill does quite the opposite.”
“The current wave of anti-LGBTQ bills across the country isn't an attack on LGBTQ people alone. It's an attack on all of our freedoms and democratic ideals as a nation. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who we are.”
Jennifer Solomon, Florida mom and member of HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council
“Right now, I'm speaking as the parent of an LGBTQ+ child in Florida, and I'm terrified. I feel my family is being targeted and used as a political pawn. We're just a regular family raising a terrific, fabulous child, and he deserves respect and not to be harmed for living as his authentic self.”
“Imagine being a preteen and trying to navigate adolescence and now learning that it's illegal to talk about who you are — that is going to be my child's reality next year as he enters middle school.”
“My real fear isn't only for Cooper, but for the thousands of kids who don't have a trusted adult to talk to. Teachers are that source for so many, and with this new law, they can be fired or sued for that, and that just breaks my heart.”
“They're creating a solution for something that's just not a problem. I see the pain and confusion on Cooper's face when he asks me ‘Why are the adults that are supposed to be representing us being bullies?’ and I truly can't answer that.”
Cory Bernaert, Florida Kindergarten Teacher and member of the Manatee Education Association
“Our school motto is literally ‘family, memory, and passion,’ that is what we live by … and part of doing that is sharing our family and experiences at home, sharing our love for our passions and hobbies … one of the biggest things I'm struggling with right now is how am I going to respond when my students ask me ‘Mr. Bernaert, what did you do over the weekend?’ ‘Mr. Bernaert, who is that boy in the picture next to you?’
“These conversations are happening whether we want them to or not, and it's okay for them to happen ... this law is so unclear as to what can happen to me if I'm having those discussions with my kids.”
“I'm very, personally affected by the words that are being used with this bill (‘injecting’ and ‘indoctrinating’) because when you start using those words with LGBTQ+ people, it sends a clear message to how they really feel about us as human beings. Just because we love differently, I feel that my love is less … because they use those words.”
“As teachers, we do feel this bill — it's not just something that's on paper. It's not just something that they think is helping to protect parents. It is affecting us in the classroom every day. It's affecting the mental health of educators like myself. It’s affecting parents who are part of the LGBTQ+ community who have children inside the schools.”
Cathryn Oakley, HRC State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel
“Because this bill is so vague and because it is so overbroad, the chilling effect is an incredibly important aspect of this, because if the bill was meant to be only about curriculum, that's not actually what it says, and it's certainly already not even what the impact is … this bill is absolutely intended to marginalize LGBTQ+ youth, to take conversations about LGBTQ+ youth out of the classroom.”
“In Florida, we're seeing the collision of that movement with this movement that relates to critical race theory and banning books...the kids are learning challenging concepts in schools, and by educating children and sharing with them the truth of what the world looks like, that's in some way hurting the fabric of American society instead of, in fact, strengthening it. That movement is colliding in Florida with this movement to really harm trans youth and to use trans youth as political pawns in service of national political ambitions.”
“This is not a victimless crime, this truly will hurt kids… they are either recklessly hurting these kids or intentionally hurting these kids, and they're doing so in service of political goals that only... is welcomed by a very small section of the American electorate. It's deeply unfortunate and it is truly alarming, frightening, and despicable.”
Discriminatory Legislation Driving Terrible Consequences
LGBTQ+ kids have real threats and obstacles to overcome. 86% of LGBTQ+ youth report they have been targets of bullying, harassment, or assault at school. Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ youth contribute to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement.
HRC also opposes the “Stop WOKE Act” (HB 7), another dangerous bill that is currently awaiting DeSantis’s signature. If enacted, this bill would limit protected speech in workplaces with more than fifteen employees and classrooms by censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination. It would also change Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination.
Strong Opposition to Discriminatory Attacks on LGBTQ+ Population
According to the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida, 49% of Floridians oppose the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill while only 40% support it. Opposition for the bill is even stronger in younger populations. A majority of Floridians between the ages of 18 and 24 — recent secondary school graduates — disapprove of efforts to erase LGBTQ+ people in classrooms.
Meanwhile, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, and Former Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus – all Republicans – each recently chose to stand on the right side of history by speaking out against the coordinated legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community – especially transgender youth – underway in their states and nationwide.
Nationally, support for nondiscrimination protections is the highest it’s ever been, overall, and across state, religious affiliation, and party membership: According to a recent report from PRRI, approximately eight in ten Americans (79%) favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. This reflects an 11% increase in the proportion of Americans who support nondiscrimination protections since 2015 (71%).
The PRRI study also shows that legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill is unlikely to gain support from state residents — 80% of Floridians support nondiscrimination protections, and 66% of Floridians oppose refusal of service on religious grounds.
The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups, representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations, recently released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.
Nearly 200 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoken out to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed in states across the country. Companies like Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Airbnb, Disney, Dell, Dow, Google, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nike , and Wells Fargo have objected to anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation. Apple CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that he stands with LGBTQ+ youth harmed by legislation like HB 1557. More than 60 businesses went on the record earlier this month with an ad placed in the Dallas Morning News calling on public leaders to abandon efforts to write discimrination into law and policy. Apple, Capital One, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and Unilever were among the more than 60 businesses that joined the ad. Only weeks ago, Rosanna Durruthy, Vice President, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn, invited the LinkedIn community to stand up for LGBTQ+ families and their right to make decisions to support their loved ones.
Legislative Attacks on LGBTQ+ People
The signing of the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill arrives at a time when statewide officials in Texas have tried to criminalize transition care for minors, and lawmakers in Alabama are on the verge of passing legislation to do so as well. Iowa recently became the first state in the country that had passed statewide non-discrimination protections that include LGBTQ+ people to reverse course by prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. And in South Dakota, Gov. Noem proclaimed that it “makes me sad” to hear about high rates of depression among LGBTQ+ people in her state – just days after she signed the first anti-trans bill of 2022 into law.
Just three months into the year, HRC is tracking 583+ pieces of potentially LGBTQ+-related legislation introduced in the 2022 state legislative session. Of those, at least 313 are classified as harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, and 137+ are specifically anti-transgender bills.
While the sponsors of these pieces of legislation make disingenuous claims about what their bills will do, their own statements and those of their supporters are revealing their true intentions. Governor DeSantis’ own press secretary, as well as advisers and staffers for Republican governors in Texas and South Dakota, and a bill sponsor in Iowa, have made public hateful comments this year laying bare that these bills are more about prejudice against transgender people than any real policy position.
A Coordinated, National Effort to Fear Monger and Marginalize LGBTQ+ People
Groups like the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Eagle Forum, and others are at the helm of this effort, seeking to use LGBTQ+ rights as a political wedge.
These bills are the result of a concerted effort by right-wing organizations that have been battling against LGBTQ+ progress for years. Across recent elections, one of the key anti-equality groups working to turn back decades of LGBTQ+ progress has been the American Principles Project (APP). APP and its chief underwriter Sam Fieler have invested millions of dollars in support of anti-LGBTQ+ candidates. In 2020, APP spent more than $2.6 million in ad spending in support of anti-equality candidates. In Virginia in 2021, APP spent at least $300,000 on digital advertising in support of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign.
Restoration PAC, run and funded by major anti-LGBTQ+ bankroller Dick Uihlein, spent at least $1.9 million in advertising across Virginia in support of Youngkin and donated $942,000 to the political arm of anti-abortion group Women Speak Out Virginia. Anti-equality group Free to Learn Action launched a $1 million ad campaign spreading widely debunked anti-transgender misinformation in support of Youngkin’s campaign.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
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