Don’t Say Gay proves challenging for teachers of FL students / Public News Service

Despite being geared toward children in kindergarten through third grade, Florida teachers say what is often referred to as the Law “Do not say gay” has instilled fear in teachers and students of all grades.

billed as an effort to give parents more control over the types of instruction allowed in classrooms, the Parents’ Rights in Education Act prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity until third grade. But since it took effect in July, Erika Houvouras, a high school English teacher, said the law has done nothing but cause everyone stress and confusion.

“I’ve had students come to me and say, ‘Hey, we’ve been told that if we ask you to call us by different pronouns, you have to tell our parents.’ And you know, ‘if you see us in the halls with someone of the same gender, you have to tell our parents,'” she said. “And I tell them, ‘That’s never going to happen. You don’t have to worry about it with me.'”

Houvouras said in group chats with teachers across the state that everyone is concerned. Some tell her they’re doing everything they can to make the kids more comfortable, while others have gone as far as cutting out parts of the literature they’d normally cover and limiting class discussions because they’re worried “getting in trouble.”

Houvouras said he hasn’t seen a single message from district leaders about how to navigate classroom discussions, especially when kids are the ones leading the discussions and asking for explanations, including about the controversial topic being debated.

“The more strident parts that we were hearing have been reduced a little bit in the actual verbiage of the bill, but there is still that concern there,” he said. “There’s an obvious effort to limit the acceptability of a community of people, something my students don’t feel comfortable with at all.”

She said the law has sent shock waves reaching far beyond limiting classroom discussions for younger children. Most of her students are 18 or so, she said, and if issues of gender identity or sexual orientation come up in any literature and her students ask questions, she hopes she will continue to respond.

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