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Florida bans teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation through 12th grade

<i>Andrew West/The News-Press/USA Today Network</i><br/>Signs are seen here displayed at a protest and march in Naples on March 31 against several anti-LGBT Florida House bills.
Andrew West/The News-Press / USA
Andrew West/The News-Press/USA Today Network
Signs are seen here displayed at a protest and march in Naples on March 31 against several anti-LGBT Florida House bills.

By Steve Contorno, CNN

Florida’s state education board voted Wednesday to ban teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity through high school, expanding the scope of a contentious state law that last year thrust Gov. Ron DeSantis to the forefront of the cultural clash over classrooms.

The law DeSantis signed last year prohibited the instruction of these topics from kindergarten through third grade or in a way that was not age appropriate for all other grades. The decision Wednesday by the State Board of Education clarified that outside of health or reproductive courses, such instruction is not appropriate at any grade level.

Teachers who violate the new state policy could be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked.

“We’re providing clarity on what the students are expected to learn. Nothing more than that,” said Esther Byrd, a board member appointed by DeSantis. “This really isn’t a complicated thing.”

Public comment on the vote lasted an hour as some supporters lined up to encourage the board to vote in favor of the proposal while others pushed them to reconsider.

“I want to be sure we are preserving spaces that are safe for students who are like me,” said Jennifer Webb, a former state lawmaker who was the first out queer woman to serve in the state House of Representatives.

The law DeSantis signed last year sparked national outrage from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates and prompted Republicans to propose similar legislation in state houses across the country.

At the time, DeSantis argued young children should not be exposed to concepts like gender identity, and he did not push for the ban to apply to upper grade levels. Indeed, in his new book, “The Courage to Be Free,” DeSantis accused the media of dishonestly suggesting he was blocking older students from these topics. In one exchange with a reporter he highlighted in his book, DeSantis asked a reporter whom the ban applied to. The reporter responded, “Grades K to 3.”

DeSantis responded: “So five-year-olds, six-year olds, seven-year-olds, and the idea that you wouldn’t be honest about that, and tell people what it actually says. It’s why people don’t trust people like you because you peddle false narratives.”

The passage of the legislation was the catalyst for an escalating war between DeSantis and Disney that has become central to the Republican’s narrative as he lays the groundwork for a presidential campaign.

After taking a tepid stance toward the legislation last year, Disney employees pressured then-CEO Bob Chapek to speak out against the bill. When he did, DeSantis fired back, accusing Disney of trying to appease “woke” progressives. After DeSantis signed the bill into law, Disney vowed to fight to get it repealed, prompting the governor to target the company’s special taxing district in Central Florida.

That fight has continued for the past year. On Wednesday, as the state education board met to expand the ban, his political allies now overseeing the special district also met to take steps toward punishing Disney.

“Gender ideology has no place in our K through 12 school system,” DeSantis said from South Carolina on Wednesday. “It’s wrong for a teacher to tell a student that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice and so we don’t let that happen in Florida.”

Florida lawmakers were already considering legislation to extend the prohibition to eighth grade, which also prohibited teachers from using students’ preferred pronouns and banned schools from requiring a student be called by a sex that differs from what is on their birth certificate. It’s one of several bills related to LGBTQ topics that is quickly moving through the state legislature this session.

Later Wednesday, lawmakers will consider a bill that allows the state to fine, suspend or revoke the license of an establishment that allows children into an “adult live performance,” widely interpreted by LGTBQ advocates as a crackdown on drag shows. The Republican-controlled legislature is also expected to take up a bill that would ban gender affirming health care for minors.

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