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Transgender teachers leaving Florida after bill on pronouns passes

<i>WPTV</i><br/>Palm Beach County teacher Micah Desiante
Palm Beach County teacher Micah Desiante

By Joel Lopez

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    PALM BEACH, Florida (WPTV) — Two Palm Beach County teachers said they’re ready to move out of the state after the passage and expansion of what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

“In Palm Beach County, I feel fine and generally safe, but it’s still in Florida and the laws still apply here in Palm Beach County,” Micah Desiante said.

Desiante said he’s been an educator for 24 years, 14 years of which have been in Palm Beach County. In the past year, Desiante transitioned to male.

Palm Beach County teacher Micah Desiante, who recently transitioned to a male, said he’s concerned for his safety if he stays in Florida. “Even though I’ve always known, it just took me a long time to accept,” Desiante said. “From the students that I’ve taught from August on, it was a non-issue. They never mess it up. They correct each other if they do.”

Desiante said the cost of living in Florida isn’t affordable with a teacher’s salary, and with the passing of a new House bill, he said this is his final year of teaching in Florida.

“I don’t really feel like I have a choice but to leave if I need to be safe,” Desiante said. “I don’t think I could stay for my mental health. I don’t think that I could be effective the way that I am and my passion if I’m constantly watching what I say, second-guessing what I’m teaching, worried about a student misperceiving my lesson.”

He said new bills threaten his identity and accepted a new job teaching out of state.

“I am of no use to my students or my family or myself if I am locked up for saying the wrong thing, assaulted for walking in the wrong bathroom or hospitalized for having breakdowns for not being able to be my authentic self,” Desiante said.

The bill will prevent staff and students from having to refer to people by their preferred pronouns.

“You see society coming at our children in a culture war that has an agenda,” state Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said recently.

The bill also bans teaching gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Democratic lawmakers called the bill bigoted. Republican backers, however, consider the policy protection of children.

“We need to make sure what’s being taught in our classrooms are things that need to be taught in our classrooms, like math, like reading,” Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, said.

It’s an issue that Sean Fowler is also facing.

Palm Beach County teacher Sean Fowler says he is moving to Boston at the end of the school year. “I’m trans. I’m out. My students know. What’s going to happen to me?” Fowler asked. “The first round of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ came out and it was signed and I had stress seizures that put me in the hospital for two weeks.”

Fowler said Florida is home, and after eight years of teaching, he plans to move to Boston at the end of the school year. “I’m at a school that’s very supportive of me and, you know, I want to stay, but the situation has got to a point where if I don’t, I wonder what would happen if I stayed, what would happen to my safety if I stayed?” Fowler said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill, which would likely go into effect July 1.

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