Mar 8, 2022

Florida's Parental Rights bill.

Florida's Parental Rights bill.

Some are calling it "Don't say gay" legislation.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're covering the "Don't say gay" or "Parental rights" legislation in Florida. Plus, a question about the Supreme Court.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America

Correction.

In an article last week, I said that President Trump had endorsed the opponent of Texas Rep. Van Taylor. In fact, Trump did not make any endorsements in that race. Much was made of Taylor voting to confirm the 2020 election results and his initial support for the Jan. 6 commission, which caused backlash from Trump supporters. I read that Trump "snubbed" Taylor on an endorsement. And then I assumed that meant Trump endorsed his opponent, but you know what they say about assumptions. This was a sloppy mistake on my part, and I apologize (kudos to the single Texas reader who caught the error).

This is the 56th Tangle correction in its 138-week history, and the first correction since February 22nd. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.


Quick hits.

  1. President Biden announced a ban on all Russian oil imports as retaliation for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The average price for a gallon of gasoline rose to a record $4.17. (The ban)
  2. The U.S. deployed another 500 troops to Europe, bringing the total of American forces in the region to 100,000. (The deployment)
  3. The Supreme Court rejected a GOP attempt to stop court-ordered congressional district maps from being implemented in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. (The ruling)
  4. One teenager was killed and two are in critical conditions after a school shooting in Des Moines, Iowa. (The shooting)
  5. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal of a court ruling that overturned Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction, meaning Cosby will remain free from prison. (The ruling)
  6. BREAKING: Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested on conspiracy charges in Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. (The arrest)

Today's topic.

Florida’s “parental rights” legislation. In February, the Florida House passed a controversial bill that limits how teachers and school staff can talk about certain issues pertaining to gender and sexuality. The bill, HB 1557, has been dubbed by sponsors as "Parental Rights Legislation" and by detractors as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. You can read the text of the bill here.

The bill mostly codifies parents’ rights to information about their childrens’ lesson plans and health records and requires schools to give updates on changes in their child's mental, emotional and physical health. It says schools can withhold information if they believe disclosing it would result in abuse, abandonment or neglect of the student.

But one of the bill's most controversial sections says the following: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

It became a national controversy after the president, national politicians and several high-profile Hollywood actors objected to it, and LGTBQ advocates warned it could lead to higher suicide rates among LGBTQ youth. Because the bill authorizes parents to bring action against a school district for violating these rules, critics say it will have a chilling effect on classroom lessons and dissuade teachers from discussing anything related to LGBTQ issues at any age.

Rep. Michael Grieco, a Florida Democrat, said the language in the legislation was too broad. "Anybody who says that this bill is only about kindergarten through third grade is either mistaken or flat-out lying."

Rep. Joe Harding, a Florida Republican, said "Creating boundaries at an early age of what is appropriate in our schools, when we are funding our schools, is not hate... It’s actually providing boundaries, and it’s fair to our teachers and our school districts to know what we expect."

The bill passed Florida's house by a 69-47 vote in February, with six Republicans voting against it and zero Democrats voting for it. Last week, it advanced to the Florida Senate on a 12-8 committee vote, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed his support for the bill. The legislation is part of a larger wave of Republican legislation across the country that regulates how teachers can discuss critical race theory and LGTBQ issues in schools.

Below, we’ll take a look at what the left and right are saying.


What the left is saying.

  • The left is critical of the bill, saying it will harm LGTBQ kids.
  • Some say it's indicative of a new snitch culture on the right that is trying to intimidate teachers out of discussing sensitive topics.
  • Others praise the students who are taking a stand against the bill in Florida.

Greg Sargent said the bill was indicative of a new "snitch culture" on the right.

"The GOP proposals sweeping the country that restrict the teaching of race have an obvious purpose: to make teachers feel perpetually on thin ice, so they shy away from difficult discussions about our national past rather than risk breaking laws in ways they cannot themselves anticipate," Sargent wrote. "But there’s another, more pernicious goal driving these bills that might well succeed politically precisely because it remains largely unstated. The darker underlying premise here is that these bills are needed in the first place, because subversive elements lurk around every corner in schools, looking to pervert, indoctrinate or psychologically torture your kids.

"The Florida 'Don’t say gay' bill prohibits school districts from encouraging 'discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity' that is not 'age appropriate' or 'developmentally appropriate.' In response to critics who argue this would stigmatize LGBTQ people, supporters insist it wouldn’t prohibit such discussions if they arise. But the bill doesn’t define what is 'age-appropriate' or 'developmentally appropriate.' This is likely to leave teachers fearing that if they do engage such a discussion, parents might decide it’s not age-appropriate and object," Sargent said. "In that regard, it’s important to note that the bill also would allow parents to bring legal action against school districts, in which courts could 'award damages.' As a PEN America report documents, many proposals across the country require punitive action against teachers and give parents such a right of action."

Amit Paley and Joe Saunders, two leaders of LGTBQ organizations, said there are currently more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills moving through state legislatures across the country.

"One of the most extreme examples is a piece of legislation in Florida known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill. It states school districts 'may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.' The language, which is vague and could apply to K-12 classrooms across Florida, could be used to prohibit open discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. If passed, it would effectively erase entire chapters of history, literature, and critical health information in schools — and silence LGBTQ students and those with LGBTQ parents or family members.

“Let's be clear: The ‘Don't Say Gay’ bill will do real and lasting harm. All students should learn about the LGBTQ community's important contributions to US history and culture. Landmark events, ranging from the Stonewall Riots to Supreme Court decisions in cases such as Obergefell v. Hodges and Bostock v. Clayton County, should be included in any comprehensive lesson plan on modern history and civil rights movements. LGBTQ students deserve to see their own history and experiences reflected in their education, just like their peers. Learning about LGBTQ civil rights heroes, like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin can work to inspire LGBTQ students, make them feel proud of who they are and help them envision a brighter future.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board praised students for walking out in protest against the bill.

"Why is there so little sense of honor in the Florida Legislature that a bill that would openly prevent teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation issues – and effectively intimidate LGBTQ students into remaining silent about them as well – has already won passage in the Florida House and also appears destined to be approved by the Florida Senate?" the board said. "Why is there so little sense of honor among Florida’s lawmakers that a majority of them still prefer the cowardice of putting the lives of young LGBTQ Floridians in peril over the courage of resolutely standing up to safeguard them?

"Why, in short, has it been left up to young kids in a Sarasota County school to show what compassion and concern for others really means – while craven adults in legislative chambers in Tallahassee shamefully continue to reveal just how little they truly respect those values?"


What the right is saying.

  • The right supports the bill, saying that it protects kids from inappropriate and confusing content.
  • They say parents should have a say in what their kids are taught about sexuality.
  • Many point to the increased amount of sexual content being taught to young students.

In RealClearEducation, Ginny Gentles said "it does not appear that many opponents have read the bill."

"If they had, they would see that it primarily addresses parental rights around services, surveys, and information pertaining to their children," Gentles wrote. "Parents, at least those from Generation X or older millennials, had a very different public-school experience than younger generations are getting. To these parents, it is common sense that classroom instruction regarding sex and human sexuality should not be given to children from ages five to eight; children at these ages have historically been protected from sexual content and outright political activism like gender ideology. The bill doesn’t say that those topics should never be addressed in schools, only that they should not be covered until grade four, and that they should be handled in an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate manner."

"Many parents believe that classroom teachers should not show young, impressionable children pictures that depict breast-binding or encourage physically altering their growing bodies," Gentles said. "They don’t want children in early elementary grades to read books or use gender-coloring books encouraging them to disassociate their minds from their bodies, and to focus on sex and sexuality at such a young age. Young children don’t need to be shown a Blue’s Clues Pride Parade video celebrating transgenderism and pansexuality, or Queer Kid Stuff videos that train them to ask people for their pronouns, or be told that doctors are sometimes wrong when 'assigning gender.' Children should not be instructed that there is no such thing as girls and boys. Lest this sound like an unlikely scenario: a lawsuit is being filed by a Canadian mother whose six-year-old daughter was taught 'girls are not real, and boys are not real' at school."

Madeleine Kearns wrote that "Florida is protecting parental rights."

"In reality, the bill in question — which is currently being considered by the Florida legislature — is not an attack on sexual minorities but an attempt to pry parental rights out of the hands of ideologues," Kearns wrote. "HB 1557 would require schools to notify parents if they become aware of changes in the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health — that is, 'unless a reasonably prudent person would believe that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined in s.39.01.' The bill would make it easier for parents to bring action against the school district, should their rights under the transparency mandate be ignored.

"Laws like this are important safeguards in these polarized times when schools — at the behest of activists — too often play psychologist and parent with other people’s children," Kearns added. "Opponents claim that this amounts to compelling teachers to pretend sexual minorities don’t exist — a 'Don’t Say Gay' bill. However, the key phrase here is kindergarten through grade 3. In some states, LGBT ideology is introduced before children can even write their own names. Children as young as five are taught the sinister fiction that they may have been born in the wrong body. It’s no wonder parents object. The more legitimate concern is that the bill’s wording — 'age-appropriate' and 'developmentally appropriate' — is overbroad, although this is at least partly mitigated by the qualifier 'in accordance with state standards.' Critics have pejoratively described the bill as 'censorship,' but it is perfectly appropriate to censor adult themes and ideas around small children."

In Heritage, Dr. Jay Richards and Jared Eckert said the bill "hit its target."

"The bill would not ban the word 'gay.' Rather, it would protect children from teachers and other school officials who seek to sexualize and bombard them with gender ideology," Richards and Eckert wrote. "In particular, it would require schools to be transparent with and get permission from parents for any health services students receive. It would also prohibit elementary school teachers from pushing classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Liberal activists are claiming that the parental rights bill would harm kids. Nonsense. It would protect young kids from what is, in effect, sexual grooming—whether in the classroom or the nurse’s office.

"In recent years, sexually explicit and age-inappropriate material have flooded America’s classrooms," they added. "For example, last year in Washington state, a first-grade teacher read students 'I Am Jazz'—an infamous children’s book that promotes transgenderism. Anyone with common sense knows that we should protect young children from sexual content. Scientific evidence confirms that wisdom. We know that early exposure to sexual content can harm young students. It has been linked to poor 'mental health, life satisfaction, sexual behavior and attitudes, and pornography-viewing patterns in adulthood.'... The fact that activist-educators do this in the name of 'compassion' or 'gender equity' doesn’t change what’s really happening."


My take.

Given my writing on the wave of "critical race theory" legislation that has spread across the country, it will probably not surprise you that I'm quite skeptical of this bill. And many of the reasons why I was critical of that legislation relate directly to why I'm critical of this legislation: I think it's overly broad and unlikely to solve the issues we're worried about.

The majority of this bill is about “parental rights” to certain information pertaining to their kids in school. It makes exceptions for situations where a student might face abuse or neglect at home if that information is shared, and I generally think all of that is perfectly fine. But the specific LGBTQ language, to me, is deeply troubling.

The section in question essentially constitutes an outright ban on K-3 teachings that have to do with anything related to LGBTQ people, and further tells teachers they could be sued for teaching LGBTQ content that is "inappropriate" for certain ages without defining what is appropriate. If your workplace sent out a memo telling you that colleagues could now sue you for making "inappropriate comments about the New York Yankees," my guess is you would avoid talking about the New York Yankees at all. And that’s the core issue with legislation like this.

Further, I think there is an obvious divide here among supporters or detractors on a particular part of this issue: whether parents or teachers and administrators should control what's taught in school. Or, more specifically, whether parents or teachers and administrators should control how gender and sex education are taught in school. Florida Republicans are selling this bill as a way for parents to get control over what "activist" teachers are spreading in the classroom.

I'm actually quite sympathetic to the idea that parents should have a say in the material their kids are being taught. Even if I think teachers are better equipped to make those decisions, which I do, I don't think parents should be powerless. In my previous writing, I told a story about how my family once fought back against a biology teacher who was teaching creationism in my middle school biology class. But that’s just it: Parents already have power right now. They have PTA boards, they have public hearings, they are able to scrutinize teachers in the press, they can vote for legislators who will pass bills like this — they have power. The question is whether they should have more power, be invited to sue teachers, or be able to shut down certain lesson plans with the threat of a lawsuit behind them.

Specific to this issue, I think it's also a reasonable feeling to want to keep children insulated from certain materials at certain ages. We do this all the time, all throughout society, and it's a totally legitimate feeling if parents are worried their kids are being exposed too soon and in inappropriate ways to "sexual" content.

Even specific to issues of gender, there are reasons to think we should tread carefully. For instance, the American Psychiatric Association has estimated that 88% to 98% of children struggling with gender dysphoria will reconcile with their biological sex once they go through puberty. Other studies have pegged the range as low as 63% or as high as 94%. Even if this data is just roughly accurate, and even though those studies are sometimes flawed and their sample sizes are sometimes small, this can reasonably be taken by parents as a reminder that "it's just a phase" is actually, very often, true.

Of course, that raises my issue, which is that sometimes it isn't just a phase, either. However uncomfortable we feel about it, research consistently suggests kids form a gender identity as early as preschool. And they start forming a sexual identity, too. In fact, one of the major criticisms of studies suggesting a high rate of kids "growing out" of their gender dysphoria is that the subjects of those studies weren't trans, they were gay. In other words: Parents took their kids to a clinician because they seemed confused about their gender (like, for example, boys wearing dresses). The study followed those kids, and as they went through puberty, it became clear the kids weren't trans — they were gay. These kids are then marked in studies as "desistors," or people who thought they were trans when they were young but grew out of it.

To me, the obvious takeaway from that research is that if the kids were being educated about what it meant to be straight, gay, trans or queer, they might have more easily been able to correctly identify what their own feelings meant. I don't think that is a particularly radical or ultra-progressive take, nor do I think it equates to "sexual grooming of kids." Which, by the way, is another insidious and awful part of this legislation: It seems, in part, built on the notion that progressive teachers or LGBTQ teachers are interested in "sexually grooming" kids to join the fray, which denotes a kind of evil in both liberals and LGBTQ Americans that should be soundly criticized and rejected.

Does this mean all teaching about gender or sex in school is appropriate, especially for K through 3rd graders? No. Of course not. But Gov. Ron DeSantis demonstrated precisely why this legislation may not solve for that inappropriate teaching when asked about this bill. DeSantis told reporters it was "entirely inappropriate" for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity, especially when teachers tell them things like "Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet." Opening teachers to lawsuits for responding to a kid who says they don't know what gender they are by telling them "don't worry about it, you don't have to pick yet," is bad policy.

On top of being too vague, inviting unnecessary lawsuits and founded in prejudice that progressives and LGBTQ teachers want to groom kids, it seems to range from being deeply unpopular to deeply divisive with Floridians. Perhaps the legislature could reform the bill by removing the language around LGBTQ teachings and pushing forward on the actual “parental rights” legislation, which would be far more popular and acceptable. As it stands now, though, I do not think this bill is a good piece of legislation.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: I have a question about the Supreme Court. I gather it currently has a 6-3 conservative lean. How unprecedented is that kind of imbalance and how much of a threat does it realistically pose for issues such as women's and ethnic minority rights? From the outside looking in, the way some people discuss this makes it seem as if they really believe the court has now been taken over by alt-right/nazi-adjacent ideologues.

— Kennedy, London, England

Tangle: Great question. The short answer is that it is not unprecedented, but that it is pretty novel in modern times.

This is the most "conservative" court we've had in nearly 100 years, depending on whom you ask. That's mostly thanks to how nominations have broken down. Since 1969, 18 Supreme Court justices have been put on the bench. 14 were appointed by Republicans.

But I'd be cautious about predicting how that plays out. For instance, in the first term of the 6-3 court cemented by Trump, the court had the highest share of unanimous rulings of the three years prior. Then again, several recent rulings have broken precisely down 6-3 ideological lines.

It's also true that justices don't always do what you think they will. Studies show the Supreme Court has mostly remained moderate and cent-right, and in contemporary times has issued more liberal rulings in its most high-profile cases than conservative rulings. That is, in part, because eight of the 10 justices seated in the Nixon and George H.W. Bush terms were confirmed by a Democratic Senate, and because Republican presidents nominated a lot of "conservative" justices who ended up undergoing "ideological drift," moving from right to center and sometimes even left.

So, how big is the threat? I think it's very hard to predict. I've found some of the court’s recent rulings concerning, but some Americans of all stripes feel that way during every Supreme Court term. I think the suggestion the court has been hijacked by alt-right, Nazi-adjacent ideologues is as ridiculous as it sounds.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

The average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit a record high of $4.17, as the war in Ukraine is proving to have far-reaching economic consequences. News of the prices could slow economic growth by curbing spending on other items, and comes at a time when inflation is already rising at the fastest pace in decades. The previous record for a gallon of gas was $4.11 in 2008, and the price has risen 15% in a week and 21% in the last month. Gas prices vary wildly across states based on taxes and energy infrastructure, with prices in states like California and Nevada much higher than in Texas or Oklahoma. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


Numbers.

  • 40%. The percentage of voters who somewhat or strongly support HB 1557, according to a University of North Florida poll.
  • 49%. The percentage of voters who somewhat or strongly oppose HB 1557, according to a University of North Florida poll.
  • 2 million. The number of refugees who have reportedly fled Ukraine.
  • $10 billion. The amount of damage done to Ukraine infrastructure in the war so far, according to its infrastructure minister.
  • $12 billion. The amount of aid the United States is considering allocating to Ukraine in the upcoming omnibus spending bill.

Have a nice day.

A couple in Ukraine is going viral after they decided to tie the knot on the front lines of the war. Lesia Ivashchenko and Valerii Fylymonov, who had been together for 22 years, were separated for about a week when the war started. When they were reunited, they decided they didn't want to wait any longer to become husband and wife, and so — donned in fatigues — they held a wedding ceremony. "It is very sad that this (the Russian invasion) happened to us, that our family cannot be together," Fylymonov said. "I'm happy that we are alive, that this day started, that my husband is alive, and he is with me. We decided who knows what will happen tomorrow. We should get married in front of the state, in front of God." ABC has the story.


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