TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.
The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip.
Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission.
While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,” advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.
Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”
This school board in FL voted that if an LGBTQ child is in a P.E. class or attending an overnight trip that ALL the parents in their class will receive a notification about it, which essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings. https://t.co/g1bE4df2bS— Benjamin Siemon (@BenjaminJS) June 30, 2022
Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”
Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.
Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.
Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.
“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident.
In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.
“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”
The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0. According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed.
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.”
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