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‘Don’t Say Gay’ passes Florida Senate heads to governor’s desk

LGBTQ+ youth and advocates have railed against the legislation, with thousands of students across the state staging a walkout protest

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Florida Senators pass 'Don't Say Gay' bill. (Photo By Thomas Kennedy/Twitter)

TALLAHASSEE, Fl. – The Florida Senate passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill Tuesday, sending it to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled support for the legislation. 

With LGBTQ+ children present in the chamber, the Senate passed H.B. 1557 by a vote of 22-17, with two Republicans, Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jenn Bradley, joining Democrats in voting “nay.”

“I am not going to support the bill today in hopes that we can find a way to love our neighbors,” Brandes said last week. 

The legislation, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” will now head to the desk of DeSantis, who has signaled support for the bill – saying last month that it is “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identity.

The measure, which has garnered national media attention and condemnation from the White House, would ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, while “age-appropriate” teaching would be allowed in older grades – though it is not clear what is considered “age-appropriate.” 

On Monday, several opponents in the Senate attempted to file amendments to lessen the blow on the LGBTQ+ community – including creating safe places for LGBTQ+ students and removing the line targeting “sexual orientation and gender identity” – all of which failed. 

During debate Tuesday, Sen. Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly-LGBTQ+ state Senator, argued against the bill, urging his colleagues to “look at me and these children not as hypotheticals but as real stories.”

“To those who think you can legislate gay people away, I’m sorry. You cannot,” he said. “I think you should legislate to protect them.”

In his closing argument, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), the sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said his passion for the measure is because he knows how important it is to “empower parents.” 

Meanwhile, Democrats expressed outrage over comments from DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who Monday tweeted that those who oppose the legislation are “probably a groomer.” 

The governor’s communications director accused us of being pedophiles for being again this bill,” said Sen. Gary M. Farmer (D). Boy, oh boy, I got news for you, you cant teach gay and you sure can’t pray away gay.”

Democrats also argued that the bill would hurt Florida’s reputation worldwide. “Who in the world have we become? Who in Florida have we become?” said Sen. Janet Cruz (D), who has a lesbian daughter.. “I feel like I had a dream of a bad version of ‘Back to the Future.’ I mean, there is no time machine here. We can’t roll back 40 years, we are here.”

LGBTQ+ youth and advocates have railed against the legislation, with thousands of students across the state staging a walkout to protest the bill. The lead organizer, Jack Petocz, was suspended from his school indefinitely for staging the demonstration.

“I pushed back on this, as I wasn’t going to allow staff to minimize our reach and message,” he said. “Using my megaphone, I told students to hold onto their flags and not to allow them to silence us.”

In a statement, statewide LGBTQ+ organization Equality Florida condemned the passage of the bill, saying: “Should its vague language be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family, we will lead legal action against the State of Florida to challenge this bigoted legislation.”

“We will not sit by and allow the governor’s office to call us pedophiles. We will not allow this bill to harm LGBTQ Floridians,” it added. “We will not permit any school to enforce this in a way that endangers the safety of children. We stand ready to fight for Floridians in court and hold lawmakers who supported this bill accountable at the ballot box.”

The Biden administration, in the wake of President Biden tweeting out his opposition to the legislation when DeSantis first signaled he’d support it, has indicated the “Don’t Say Gay” bill may violate federal law.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement Tuesday the bill was “hateful” and suggested it may violate Title IX of the Education Amendment 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in schools.

“The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Cardona said. “We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.”

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Florida

CDC: Meningococcal Disease outbreak investigation in Florida, 7 deaths

Gay & bisexual men urged to get vaccinated if living in Florida, or talk to their healthcare provider about vaccination if traveling to state

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CDC Headquarters, Atlanta (Photo Credit: U.S. Government/GSA)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday that the agency is continuing its collaboration with the Florida Department of Health to investigate one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history.

At least 24 cases and 7 deaths among gay and bisexual men have been reported so far a CDC spokesperson noted.

In response to this outbreak, CDC is recommending gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, or talk with their healthcare provider about getting vaccinated if they are traveling to Florida. CDC is also emphasizing the importance of routine vaccination for people with HIV.  

“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said José R. Romero, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine.” 

People can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department. Insurance providers should pay for meningococcal vaccination for those whom it is recommended for during an outbreak. In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak.  

Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms of meningococcal disease. Symptoms can appear suddenly and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly. People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing, to spread these bacteria.   

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone and can be deadly and includes infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against meningococcal disease. 

More information about the outbreak and vaccine is available at Meningococcal Disease in Florida, 2022 | CDC.  

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Florida

Florida proposes eliminating Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care

Should Florida’s Health Care Administration enact the rule, approximately 9,000 trans Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted

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Screenshot/WCJB ABC 20 Gainesville

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released its Notice for a Proposed Rule to eliminate Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care for transgender Floridians.

AHCA’s rule proposes that Florida Medicaid coverage “does not cover the following services for the treatment of gender dysphoria: puberty blockers, hormones, sex reassignment surgeries, and any other procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics.” 

If enacted, approximately 9,000 transgender Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted.

 “Access to healthcare is a right every human being deserves,” said Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Nikole Parker. “Transgender individuals are humans just like everyone else. Just because our experience isn’t widely understood, does not mean we don’t deserve respect and access to life-saving healthcare.  The country’s major medical and mental health associations recognize the critical importance of gender affirming care.  Health care should be driven by scientific consensus, not political pandering or an election cycle.” 

Public comment on the proposed rule is being accepted through July 8, 2022, and can be submitted at the “make comment” link on this page.

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Florida

Anti-LGBTQ laws making Florida less welcoming for businesses

The state LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate

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OUT Leadership/Facebook

TALLAHASSEE – In a new report by OUT Leadership, the global network for LGBTQ+ business leaders and companies, the state of Florida’s ranking has decreased at a higher rate than most states making it less suitable for companies who value LGTBQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

The report is called the State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index for 2022 and is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate.

“At a time when our state is recovering from the pandemic and unprecedented employment challenges, this report shows that the current decisions from the state’s leadership about prioritizing culture wars over cultural diversity is harming our reputation as a welcoming and inclusive state to LGBTQ talent, and with companies who truly value equality for their workplace cultures,” said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Executive Director.

“Our coalition called Equality Means Business was developed to highlight companies in our state that walk the walk when it comes to LGBTQ protections in their places of business,” said Rene Cantu, Equality Florida Business Outreach Manager. “It would be a shame if our corporate partners and their team members start considering moving out of Florida because of the current climate, but there are some who are doing so.”

The report measures such factors as legal/nondiscrimination protections, youth and family support, political and religious attitudes, health access and safety, and workplace culture through the lens of the LGBTQ+ community in each state.

According to this report, Florida’s score for 2022 is 53.43, a drop of 3.40 points from 2021. This score also lies 11 points below the national average of 64.61, and places Florida at a ranking of 31 out of 50. The report further states that the dramatic drop in score is a direct result of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Though the law does not take effect until July 1, its chilling effects are already being felt across the state. Graduation speeches and yearbook photos have faced censorship in the law’s wake while books with LGBTQ characters and Black authors are being challenged and banned, COEXIST flags and rainbow “Safe Space” stickers are being peeled from classroom windows, and teachers are considering leaving the profession for fear of the law’s implications. 

“The message is clear: LGBTQ kids and kids with same-sex parents are not welcome in Florida schools or our state. That reality is making it harder for pro-equality businesses to operate in the state,” Equality Florida noted in a press release Thursday.

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