PALM COAST, Fl. – Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.
On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.
“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”
The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on Change.org to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.
One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.
Later on during the day Driggers posted to the Change.org petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.
“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.
Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.
On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.
My name is Jack Petocz. I am the high school junior who led walkouts in opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and was suspended for passing out pride flags. Now, I’m being prevented from running for senior class president. No matter what, I won’t stop fighting for my community. pic.twitter.com/5lG6EYIXo2— Jack Petocz (@Jack_Petocz) May 17, 2022
In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:
“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”
On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.
If you want to help me fight, click the link below to send an email to administrators and the superintendent of my district. It’s ridiculous queer kids have to be punished while fighting for our rights. https://t.co/oBOKZDLavb— Jack Petocz (@Jack_Petocz) May 17, 2022
DeSantis education purge begins after school board takeovers
Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates receiving endorsement from DeSantis
By Julia Conley | SARASOTA – Despite outcry from parents, teachers, and students, newly elected right-wing school board members in Sarasota County, Florida on Tuesday became the latest allies of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to oust a school superintendent over the district’s adherence to public health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of community members gathered at a school board meeting in Sarasota County on Tuesday evening to support Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of schools since 2020, whose contract was the subject of the meeting.
The board met the same day new members, including Chair Bridget Ziegler, were sworn in. Ziegler, a co-founder of right-wing group Moms for Liberty, was one of two dozen school board candidates who received an endorsement from DeSantis during the midterm elections. The majority of those candidates, who received $1,000 contributions from the governor, won their elections.
At the meeting, members condemned Asplen “for not pushing back on the mask mandate” that was in place for three weeks in 2021 after the school board voted 3-2 in favor of the mandate, making Sarasota County the first in the state to defy DeSantis’ law blocking Covid-19 mitigation measures.
Quite a crowd gathered in front of the @sarasotaschools district building ahead of the special meeting to discuss the termination of Superintendent Brennan Asplen tonight.— Steven Walker (@swalker_7) November 29, 2022
Follow along for updates for the @HeraldTribune: pic.twitter.com/xcnoJ4a5ok
On Tuesday the board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of negotiating a separation agreement with Asplen, after another board member, Thomas Edwards, warned the move would be a “carbon copy” of a similar ouster in Berkeley County, South Carolina earlier this month.
In that case, new school board members who had been endorsed by Moms for Liberty voted to fire the district’s superintendent and ban classroom discussions of racism in history and the present day.
Asplen is not the only school leader who has been pushed out of a superintendent position in Florida by DeSantis allies citing objections to public health protocols.
Five members of the Broward County school board this month fired Superintendent Vickie Cartwright over a grand jury report on the 2018 Parkland shooting. Like Asplen, Cartwright presided over the district during the pandemic and “faced frustration from some parents” over Covid-19 mitigation measures, which were implemented in violation of DeSantis’ order.
All of the members who voted to fire Cartwright were DeSantis appointees following the removal of previous members after a school safety investigation stemming from the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
WUSF Public Media reported earlier this year that the county is undergoing “a transformational shift” with the governor’s allies poised to take “a rare opportunity to advance conservative policy priorities in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties.”
The superintendent of schools in Brevard County was also pushed out last week, hours after DeSantis-aligned school board members were sworn in.
Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, noted that parents from across the political spectrum have spoken out against the dismissals of school leaders in the Florida counties in recent weeks—”but to little avail.”
Remarkably, local conservative parents have come out to these FL board mtgs to say they have been duped, did not vote for the ousting of their superintendents. But to little avail. The new playbook of total ideological control is in full swing. https://t.co/T9pFbL0kWA— Jonathan Friedman 📚 (@jonfreadom) November 30, 2022
“The new playbook of total ideological control is in full swing,” said Friedman.
Bill Kimler, a former candidate for state House in South Carolina, noted that a right-wing takeover of school boards like the one in Berkeley County “is happening elsewhere in the country.”
“Every election cycle, we need to view school board positions with the same level of enthusiasm as we do the president of the USA,” said Kimler. “Our kids’ education cannot be left in the hand of extremists.”
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
The preceding article was previously published by Common Dreams and is republished with permission.
Florida Board of Medicine restricts trans youth healthcare
The Florida Health Care Administration’s rule ending Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care in the state went into effect this summer
ORLANDO – Today, the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy finalized their proposed rules to restrict gender affirming care for transgender youth in the state which, when in effect, will be the only ban on gender-affirming in effect in America. Similar measures in Alabama and Arkansas are currently blocked in court.
The board voted 6-3 (with five others not present) on Friday to adopt a new standard of care that forbids doctors to prescribe puberty blockers and hormones, or perform surgeries, until transgender patients are 18. Exceptions will be allowed for children who are already receiving the treatments.
The Boards landed on similar language that would bar future puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and extremely rare surgical interventions as treatments for gender dysphoria in youth.
That language included an exception for young people already receiving these treatments for gender dysphoria prior to the effective date of the rules. However, they disagreed on allowing nonsurgical treatments for gender dysphoria to continue through Institutional Review Board-approved clinical trials.
The Board of Osteopathy approved language allowing transgender youth to access gender-affirming care via those studies while the Board of Medicine rejected that proposal, paving the way for different rules governing MDs and DOs (Doctors of Osteopathy). No such IRB-approved studies are currently being conducted in Florida.
Once the rules are posted, advocates have the opportunity to request an additional hearing and workshop from the Boards, a move that groups have indicated they will take. If denied, the rules move to a 21-day period in which the public can submit written comments before a final, procedural vote by the Boards.
The New York Times reported that before the medical board decided to craft the new standard, members received personal calls from the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, urging them to do so. Earlier this year, Florida became one of at least nine states to bar Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care, affecting thousands of low-income adults and children.
“With young lives on the line, another state agency has placed the political ambitions of Ron DeSantis over its duty to protect Floridians,” said Nikole Parker, Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality. “These rules, as written, put transgender youth at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Those are the facts purposely ignored by a Board of Medicine stacked with DeSantis political appointees who have put their toxic politics over people’s health and wellbeing. Transgender Floridians exist. We are part of this community. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care — and it is care that is supported by every major medical organization, an overwhelming majority of medical providers, and should be left to young people, their families, and their doctors. Not politicians. Shame on the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy for trading the suffering of transgender youth and their parents for cheap political points.”
Dozens of advocates for transgender youth packed the meeting room today and thousands of people have sent messages to board members, since the start of this process, expressing their support for these young people, a demonstration of the unpopularity of continued attacks on the rights of youth and their families to access the health care they need by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies.
Public testimony included the powerful personal stories of transgender Floridians, families, allies and health care professionals all pointing to increased risks of depression, anxiety, and suicidality in transgender youth whose identities are not affirmed.
Commenters also pointed to the over $80,000 in donations from members of the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy to DeSantis’ campaigns and political committee.
The rulemaking process was initiated after Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo sent a transphobic and medically inaccurate letter in April that officially positioned the Department of Health against health care for Florida’s transgender youth.
Similar policies targeting health care for transgender young people have faced legal challenges in other states, including an Arkansas ban that has been placed under preliminary injunction by a federal judge as the legal process moves forward.
In that case, the court ruled that a ban on gender-affirming care would cause “irreparable harm” to trans young people and their loved ones and would prohibit “medical treatment that conforms with the recognized standard of care.”
In Texas, enforcement of a rule against several families that allowed for child abuse investigations into parents who access gender-affirming care for their transgender children was also blocked, with the judge writing that “there is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will prevail after a trial on the merits”.
A spokesperson for Equality Florida noted in a statement:
“This is the first time a state medical board has been weaponized in this way to ban medical treatments for transgender children. However, the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy are just two among the many state agencies stacked by Governor DeSantis with right-wing extremists and subverted into weapons against LGBTQ Floridians.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration’s rule ending Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care in the state went into effect this summer. Last week, the State Board of Education adopted a new series of rules dramatically expanding enforcement of the Don’t Say LGBTQ Law, putting teachers’ licenses at risk and targeting school districts with LGBTQ-inclusive policies regarding bathrooms and locker rooms.
In July, the governor ordered the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in a complaint against an LGBTQ-owned small business in Miami, threatening to strip the restaurant of its liquor license after it hosted a drag performance at its weekly Sunday Brunch.
Equality Florida PAC’s new adverts in final days before election
The ads warn Floridians that DeSantis’ extremist agenda will shift even more far-right if he and his GOP colleagues are reelected
ORLANDO – Equality Florida Wednesday announced three new ads running on digital and television in the final stretch to next Tuesday’s election. Targeting Florida Republicans and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the ads warn Floridians that DeSantis’ extremist agenda will shift even more far-right if he and his GOP colleagues are reelected.
According to Equality Florida:
- The organization’s PAC spend for these new ads is at $65,000, targeting streaming television viewers, traditional cable in key markets, and digital on all platforms
- While we have seen a surge in anti-LGBTQ ads targeting Democratic candidates around the country, our TV response ad appears to be among the first from an LGBTQ organization this cycle
- These ads come as the right wing continues to center anti-LGBTQ animus in their platform, peddling misinformation about transgender health care and demonizing the existence of LGBTQ people in schools
Florida rule now effectively bans gender-affirming care for minors
LGBTQ activists, Equality Florida and state representatives called into question the fairness of the speakers
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine Joint Rules/Legislative Committee Friday advanced a rule that will effectively ban gender-affirming care for minors in the state.
The policy, which would likely block a minor’s access to puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgeries – a rare intervention for transgender youth – will now head to the full the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathy for finalization and a vote.
It came after the state’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo in June asked the board to establish a standard for “complex and irreversible” gender-affirming care treatments. Ladapo recommended against certain pharmaceutical, non-pharmaceutical and surgical treatments for gender dysphoria. Puberty blockers, a form of gender-affirming care, are reversible.
Major medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary youth. The group, in a statement, said it “strongly oppose[s] any legislation or regulation that would discriminate against gender-diverse individuals, including children and adolescents, or limit access to comprehensive evidence-based care which includes the provision of gender-affirming care.”
Still, Ladapo called the scientific evidence supporting gender-affirming care “extraordinarily weak.”
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is likely to run for president in 2024, holds tremendous power over the board. Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, said the board was stacked with “right-wing extremists” and “subverted into weapons against LGBTQ Floridians.”
During the meeting, the committee heard from scheduled presenters meant to act as experts on gender-affirming care and members of the public. Before the meeting, one of the experts, Dr. James Cantor, was quietly removed from the agenda after it was revealed that he advocated for pedophiles to be included under the LGBTQ umbrella, according to Media Matters.
Oxford University sociology professor Michael Biggs, who did speak to the board, has posted transphobic tweets in the past, according to the Oxford Student, the college’s student newspaper.
LGBTQ activists and state representatives called into question the fairness of the speakers. According to Florida Planned Parenthood Action, two state representatives, Democrats Anna Eskamani and Carlos Smith, “begged” the board to let public comment continue.
“It is totally unacceptable for a public Board to permit only speakers who agree with the Board Members’ position to testify, and then refuse to permit others from the public with a different perspective to speak,” tweeted Florida state Rep. Ben Diamond, a Democrat.
After the board cut off public comment, the crowd began to chant: “Let them speak.”
Smith called the meeting a “sham,” adding: “They put all the speakers from out of state and out of the country who agreed with them first. When they ran out of people on their side, they cut off public comment from Floridians OPPOSED to the politicization of gender affirming care.”
“Just disgusting,” tweeted Jack Petocz, a political strategist for Gen-Z for Change.
Just disgusting. https://t.co/oeKQx6y2cP— Jack Petocz (@Jack_Petocz) October 28, 2022
The board also heard from several so-called “detransitioners” who spoke in favor of the rule.
However, those who receive gender-affirming care rarely decide not to continue with treatment. A recent study published in The Lancet found that 98% of people who had started gender-affirming medical treatment in adolescence continued to use gender-affirming hormones at follow-up.
“It needs to be repeated without end: gender-affirming care is lifesaving care,” said Nikole Parker, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida.
Florida parent sues school district over Pride flag in classroom
Deliu, who is an immigrant from Romania, states he and his son are “Orthodox Christians and their religion considers homosexuality a sin”
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fl. – The parent of a 12-year-old boy enrolled at Emerald Cove Middle School in Wellington, is suing the School District of Palm Beach County alleging in court documents that a pair of LGBTQ+ Pride flags that his son’s teacher put up in her classroom violates his rights to not have “his child ‘educated’ in the ways of homosexuality” and not have “the state acting contrary to his religious beliefs.”
WPEC CBS 12 West Palm Beach reported that Dr. Francisco Catalin Deliu filed his lawsuit on Oct. 12 against the school district, the Palm Beach County School Board, Emerald Cove Middle School principal Dr. Eugina Smith-Freeman and the teacher Rachel Raos.
In the suit filing, Deliu claims that on September Sept. 16 he was informed by his seventh-grader son that Raos, a computer science teacher had put up two ‘gay pride’ flags in her classroom. Deliu says that when he claimed to principal Smith-Freeman, “she dismissed his complaint and wouldn’t give a reason.”
Deliu said to her that her decision was against the law, referring to the “Parental Rights in Education” law — also referred to by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” — that Gov. DeSantis signed in March.”
In the suit Deliu says that “She [Smith-Freeman] responded that she would have to discuss the matter further with the Board.”
According to CBS12, when he showed up “to demand that his son be temporarily removed from the teacher’s classroom pending anticipated litigation,” he and Smith-Freeman came to a compromise and “the school would look to see if they could change him to another computer science class. “The school did not keep its promise and, instead, unilaterally and without notice to Dr. Deliu moved his son into an art class,” the suit says.
In the lawsuit Deliu, who is an immigrant from Romania, states he and his son are “Orthodox Christians and their religion considers homosexuality a sin.” The suit goes on to refer to “due process rights,” “substantive human rights,” and “natural rights from God which are protected by law,” along with his rights to not have “his child ‘educated’ in the ways of homosexuality” and not have “the state acting contrary to his religious beliefs.”
The suit also notes: “He is against government intrusion upon his rights, especially in terms of how to raise his son and Dr. Deliu is a libertarian who lives by a ‘live and let live’ creed. He respects the rights of others, but also demands they not encroach upon his rights.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida said in an emailed statement to the Blade:
“In his recent ruling, federal Judge Allen Winsor made clear that the bigoted provisions in HB 1557, the Don’t Say LGBTQ Law, do not mean a school district must take down pride flags, safe space stickers, or other forms of visible support for LGBTQ students. Simply put: there is no blanket right to erase support for LGBTQ people from schools. The School District of Palm Beach County has long had guidance in place to protect all students and respect all families — guidance that has helped to create inclusive, safe school environments. A decision to continue allowing teachers and administrators to show support for LGBTQ students will continue to make their schools safer, and is well within their legal right.”
LGBT+ Center Orlando’s Halloween Drag Story Hour cancelled
The sold-out event scheduled for October 29 was cancelled after threats from anti-LGBTQ extremist groups & neo-Nazi white supremacist groups
ORLANDO – The annual Halloween Drag Queen Story Hour, a sold-out event scheduled for October 29, hosted by the LGBT+ Center Orlando, Inc. (The Center) was cancelled after a series of threats from anti-LGBTQ extremist groups and neo-Nazi white supremacist groups.
Bridgette Galore, a long time drag artist had been scheduled to read stories of acceptance and tolerance as a Halloween Edition. At the event, each child was to receive a complimentary book. The event was also sponsored in part by City of Orlando Mayor’s Matching Grant program.
Florida state representative Anna Eskamani said in a tweet that the center and event was targeted by Nazis. “If you’re outraged by this, then please speak up,” she said.
FYI, event they were likely targeting has been canceled due to safety concerns. Doesn’t mean Nazis still won’t show up. https://t.co/dN7amjSVMf— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) October 24, 2022
“These threats of violence targeting both the LGBTQ+ community and Jewish community have become all too common in the United States and in Florida. We must stand together — across party lines — to oppose this hatred and bigotry,” Eskamani said. https://t.co/DD7elzsuel— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) October 26, 2022
Florida State Senator Shevrin “Shev” Jones (D-35th district) weighed in on Twitter once the cancellation had been made public blaming the policies and hostile anti-LGBTQ + climate on Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
This is the FL that @GovRonDeSantis has created, one where people are afraid to FREELY be themselves, and one where condemning racism, antisemitism, LGBTQ violence is encouraged by his [@RonDeSantisFL ] silence.— Shevrin “Shev” Jones (@ShevrinJones) October 24, 2022
This type of violence will only get worse.
We MUST VOTE! pic.twitter.com/FWsJZbZYNR
The decision by the Center came days after about 200 protesters and counter-protesters threw rocks and smoke grenades at each other outside Old Nick’s Pub in the Market District in the downtown area of Eugene, Oregon.
The scene Sunday of violent clashes between the LGBTQ+ supporters and far right extremist group the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis was over “Drag Queen Storytime” event where one of the performers, an 11-year-old girl who goes by the name of Venellope. Eugene Police reported that some in the crowd were armed.
Back in Florida, a popular restaurant and pub in the Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is under threat of losing its liquor license after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in July ordered state officials to pull its liquor license to shut it down.
The complaint was filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked.
According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”
DeSantis, in a press conference, referring to the LGBTQ+ community stated “children didn’t need some agenda shoved down their throats all the time.”
The animosity against the LGBTQ+ community has also been exacerbated by the state Republican lawmakers and the state GOP party:
Florida to Groomers: your days are numbered 🇺🇸https://t.co/uublFfIblS— Rep. Anthony Sabatini (@AnthonySabatini) July 27, 2022
There is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize children and expose them to things that are inappropriate. Watch out creeps, under @RonDesantisFL Florida law is going to be enforced and kids will be protected. https://t.co/6EgVWD7xN9— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) July 27, 2022
Florida: Anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing activists to book-banning group
A presentation planned for the group’s meeting on Tuesday, which will address content deemed offensive by its conservative members
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Department of Education has begun quietly appointing anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing activists to a “parent workgroup” that will retrain librarians in the state’s public schools amid a push to censor which materials are made available to students.
A presentation planned for the group’s meeting on Tuesday, which will address content deemed offensive by its conservative members, is expected to draw protests from human rights and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, along with groups that oppose censorship and book bans.
News of the appointments was reported Monday by The Daily Beast, which found evidence of surreptitious coordination over candidate selection between Florida’s Education Department and the office of its Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Spokespeople from the governor and state education agency’s offices did not immediately return requests for comment for this article.
According to The Daily Beast, Florida’s Education Department passed on “nearly 100 potentially qualified applicants with relevant experience,” some of whom were recommended by bipartisan school boards.
Instead, they chose nominees like Jennifer Pippin, an activist recommended by a close DeSantis advisor, Keith Flaugh, whose conservative Florida Citizens Alliance has been an ally in the governor’s quest to rid schools of “cultural Marxism” and “LGBTQ values.” Pippin, who does not have the formal training required of librarians and media center employees, did not understand some of the abbreviations used during a recent working group meeting.
Public school districts were asked to submit nominees for the “parent workgroup” on August 12, a measure that is part of the Florida Republican state government’s efforts to enforce compliance with its “Parental Rights in Education” bill, signed into law this past March.
During a meeting last week, Florida’s Education Department signaled its plans to move beyond school libraries and into classrooms to police whether materials made available by educators to their students are acceptable under the new law.
The controversial legislation specifically prohibits schools from exposing students of certain ages to educational content and discussion or classroom instruction concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
The law was written with anti-LGBTQ+ discriminatory intent and will create a chilling effect, stifling constitutionally protected free speech, according to its critics – including litigants who have filed a spate of lawsuits challenging the law’s enforcement on these and other grounds.
Additionally, opposition to the law has been voiced by the American Psychological Association, the American Bar Association, President Joe Biden, human rights and LGBTQ+ organizations like Equality Florida, student activists who have organized protests and walkouts, and 158 major companies that signed a petition circulated by the Human Rights Campaign.
PEN America, an organization that promotes free expression, literature, and human rights, published a report last month in which the group concluded that, “The large majority of book bans underway today are not spontaneous, organic expressions of citizen concern. Rather, they reflect the work of a growing number of advocacy organizations that have made demanding censorship of certain books and ideas in schools part of their mission.”
Of the books that were banned by school boards between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022, PEN America found that 41%, or 674 titles, contained “LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists, or prominent secondary characters.” Of the 1,109 bans indexed for this time period, PEN America estimates that at least 40% “are connected to either proposed or enacted legislation, or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected lawmakers to restrict the teaching or presence of certain books or concepts.”
Florida poised to ban gender-affirming care for trans kids
“The Board of Medicine in Florida is days away from making a rule to forcibly medically detransition ALL trans teens”
ORLANDO – The Florida Board of Medicine is set to make final changes and issue a rule when it meets next week in Orlando to set statewide policies for the treatment of ‘Gender Dysphoria’ in minor children. The board is expected to make the changes effectively banning trans affirming care.
Long time LGBTQ Rights activist Erin Reed noted more bluntly in a tweet, “The Board of Medicine in Florida is days away from making a rule to forcibly medically detransition ALL trans teens. Bills through the legislature have failed to do this many times now. So they’re going about it by executive fiat.”
Gender-affirming care refers to a range of supports that affirm a patient’s gender identity, such as pubertal suppression (for minors), hormonal and surgical treatments, and access to social transition.
Providers in Florida who administer this care already follow robust guidelines set forth by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
Legal experts suggest that restricting or banning access for gender-diverse patients could be considered discriminatory and even unconstitutional, as the new rule would not impede access for cisgender patients seeking some of these same treatments (for conditions such as precocious puberty, PCOS, and gynecomastia).
Hundreds of organizations, groups, public officials, spiritual leaders, and healthcare professionals signed on to an open letter opposing the Florida Board of Medicine’s politically-motivated meddling in gender-affirming care. The letter, published today on wontbesilenced.org, details the robust body of scientific research that demonstrates the life-saving benefits of this care, and condemns the collective attempts made by the Florida Board of Medicine, Surgeon General Ladapo, the Florida Department of Health, and Governor Ron DeSantis to restrict access.
In the letter written by those opposed they state: “Governor Ron Desantis’ hand-picked appointees on the Board of Medicine initiated these proceedings as one of several policy attacks on LGBTQ+ people in Florida.”
The letter also condemns the Florida Board of Medicine’s handling of the August 5th, 2022 meeting in Broward County, including their decision to end public comment early and without explanation. This silenced dozens of trans Floridians, family members, and allies who had waited hours to speak about the importance of protecting access to gender-affirming care.
“I wanted to tell them that this care will keep kids off the streets, out of the hands of traffickers, safer from assault, hunger, and disease,” said JC, a trans woman who was physically removed from the meeting for speaking up after the Board ended public comment early. “I know because that is what I had to go through to access the care I needed. You may think it’s not important, but gender-affirming care is a life or death issue.”
Equality Florida noted that activists plan to rally at the Board of Medicine’s rule-making meeting scheduled for September 30th from 8am-12pm. The public can sign a petition in support of gender-affirming care and RSVP for the rally at wontbesilenced.org.
Florida Board of Education targets schools; new anti-LGBTQ rules
New rules target school districts that have LGBTQ-Inclusive policies, teachers, & trans youth which bully and intimidate those districts
ORLANDO- As school districts across the state and particularly in Southwestern Florida struggle to reopen after the massive damage inflicted by Hurricane Ian, the deadliest hurricane to strike the state of Florida since the 1935 Labor Day storm, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), voted unanimously Wednesday on new rules designed to intimidate school districts and teachers that affirm LGBTQ students.
Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization noted that the FLDOE Board with these new rules has expanded the enforcement of HB 1557, the Don’t Say LGBTQ law. One rule passed Wednesday threatens teachers with termination of both their job and education certificate if they are found to have engaged in “classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity”
“The Board of Education’s move to target individual teachers’ jobs and licenses is another cruel attack from an administration that has spent months punching down at Florida’s LGBTQ youth and families,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida Senior Political Director. “Qualified, effective teachers are fleeing the profession in Florida thanks to the constant politicization of their roles and discrediting of their characters by the DeSantis Administration. Rather than help to clarify the Don’t Say LGBTQ laws scope, the Board of Education has taken this bigoted law to yet another extreme, threatening teachers if they dare to acknowledge LGBTQ families in the classroom. This escalation in deference to the far right agenda of the governor makes our schools less inclusive — and less safe.”
Nearly 100 pro-equality advocates attended the Board of Education meeting today in Orlando, and over 1,000 people sent messages to board members in support of teachers, families, and LGBTQ students.
Another rule passed Wednesday targets school districts with policies that allow transgender students safe access to bathrooms and locker rooms. While not denying those facilities to transgender and nonbinary students, the new rule requires school districts notify parents in the district if they have a policy allowing bathrooms or locker rooms to be separated on a basis “other than biological sex at birth.”
“The Board of Education’s facilities separation rule does not and cannot prevent transgender students from accessing facilities aligned with their gender identity — we know Federal law and the constitution protect these rights. Florida school districts have been following federal law for more than a decade, establishing policies we know will continue to work long after this politically-motivated proposed rule. What it does do is attempt to bully and intimidate districts that are providing these accommodations. Ron DeSantis’ war on transgender Floridians must end. All students deserve access to school facilities that are inclusive and safe,” added Saunders.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, a former state senator who sponsored the state’s controversial Don’t Say Gay/LGBTQ law, has been leading the efforts against Florida’s LGBTQ students. In July he issued a memo instructing school districts to ignore Title IX nondiscrimination protections for transgender students, threatening costly penalties even though federal law and case law require accommodations for transgender youth.
LGBTQ-inclusive school district policies are still supported by federal protections that exist to provide safe, welcoming spaces for all students. The Biden-Harris Administration has issued guidance instructing schools to comply with Title IX protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, which is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.
School districts must continue supporting LGBTQ students, creating safe, inclusive environments, and implementing the bigoted Don’t Say LGBTQ law as narrowly as possible to mitigate the harms it is inflicting on students and families.
Jury verdict: Life sentence in Parkland mass shooting case
The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict as required for execution in capital murder cases as required under Florida law
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fl. – After seven hours of deliberation in a penalty phase trial that lasted three months, the jury issued its verdict of life without parole for the 24-year-old man who killed 17 people in the 2018 Valentine Day’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict as required for execution in capital murder cases as required under Florida law.
The trial included graphic videos, photos and testimony from the mass-murder and its aftermath, heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ family members and a tour of the crime scene by the jurors of the bullet-ridden and blood-soaked three story Freshman classroom building that has been sealed since the crime occurred.
The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty to the charges against him a year ago, will be formally sentenced in November by Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the mass murder.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has ever gone to trial in the U.S. Nine other people in the U.S. who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire. The suspect in the 2019 massacre of 23 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial.
Lead prosecutor Mike Satz kept his case simple for the seven-man, five-woman jury. He focused on Cruz’s eight months of planning, the seven minutes he stalked the halls of a three-story classroom building, firing 140 shots with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, and his escape.
Cruz’s lead attorney Melisa McNeill and her team never questioned the horror he inflicted, but focused on their belief that his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy left him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Their experts said his bizarre, troubling and sometimes violent behavior starting at age 2 was misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, meaning he never got the proper treatment.
In the aftermath of the massacre several now-former Marjory Stoneman Douglas students went on to becoming leading gun reform activists calling for changes in gun laws and banning assault rifles.
The group they founded, ‘March for our lives,’ has become a national movement.
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