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Florida Republicans set to pass ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ critical race theory bills

Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing both measures

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives is set to pass two controversial measures that have received the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday. The bills would severely restrict educators in the state’s public schools on teaching about subject matter dealing with issues about race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

The bill related to instruction regarding the history and dynamics of issues regarding race, titled “Individual Freedom,” (House Bill 7), colloquially referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act”, is an outgrowth of a push by DeSantis to prevent the teaching of critical race theory.

The second bill, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” (House Bill 1557) colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has provoked wide-spread criticism including from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg who said the measure would inflict “shocking levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth.”

The LGBTQ group GLAAD, Equality Florida and others say the bills would further stigmatize LGBTQ people and limit teachers’ abilities to discuss the realities of American history.

After the legislation passed through the Florida House committees, President Biden weighed in offering his full support for the LGBTQ youth and families impacted.

Florida’s Public Media/NPR-PBS WUSF reported dozens of opponents turned out for a final committee meeting on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past Thursday.

NPR-PBS WUSF noted that the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston), says in part that “instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“If we are prohibiting discussion around sexual orientation, are we therefore prohibiting discussion around people being gay?” state Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa), asked Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 to approve the bill along party lines.

But Harding said restricting sex- and gender-related instruction in younger grade levels is appropriate, Florida’s Public Media/NPR-PBS WUSF reported.

“I would also say that you could apply that to straight (sexual orientation.) Again, we’re talking about kindergarten through third grade, children as young as 6 years old,” Harding said.

The other bill about race-related instruction is sponsored by state Rep. Bryan Avila, a Miami Springs Republican who is a top lieutenant of House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor). It came after DeSantis announced a legislative proposal that he dubbed the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act,” or Stop WOKE Act.

The bill lists several race-related concepts that would constitute discrimination if taught in public schools or as part of workplace training programs. As an example, it targets instruction that would lead students to believe that a “person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex,” NPR-PBS WUSF reported.

State Rep. Robin Bartleman, (D-Weston), an educator, noted, “History is not objective. Conversations are uncomfortable. I understand what this bill is trying to do, but … the only way you don’t repeat history is by discussing it. By having honest conversations. By not stifling teachers.”

The Senate versions of the measures have been approved in committees but have not advanced to the Senate floor for a vote.

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Florida

Homeless transgender woman murdered in Miami Beach

Andrea Doria Dos Passos attacked while she slept

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Andrea Dos Passos (Photo courtesy of Equality Florida)

Gregory Fitzgerald Gibert, 53, who was out on probation, is charged with the second-degree murder of 37-year-old Andrea Doria Dos Passos, a transgender Latina woman who was found deceased in front of the Miami Ballet company facility by a security guard this past week.

According to a Miami Beach Police spokesperson the security guard thought Dos Passos was sleeping in the entranceway around 6:45 a.m. on April 23 and when he went to wake her he discovered the blood and her injuries and alerted 911.

She was deceased from massive trauma to her face and head. According to Miami Beach police when video surveillance footage was reviewed, it showed Dos Passos lying down in the entranceway apparently asleep. WFOR reported: In the early morning hours, a man arrived, looked around, and spotted her. Police said the man was dressed in a black shirt, red shorts, and red shoes.

At one point, he walked away, picked up a metal pipe from the ground, and then returned. After looking around, he sat on a bench near Dos Passos. After a while, he got up and repeatedly hit her in the head and face while she was sleeping, according to police.

“The male is then seen standing over her, striking her, and then manipulating her body. The male then walks away and places the pipe inside a nearby trash can (the pipe was found and recovered in the same trash can),” according to the arrest report.

Police noted that in addition to trauma on her face and head, two wooden sticks were lodged in her nostrils and there was a puncture wound in her chest.

Victor Van Gilst, Dos Passos’s stepfather confirmed she was trans and experiencing homelessness. 

“She had no chance to defend herself whatsoever. I don’t know if this was a hate crime since she was transgender or if she had some sort of interaction with this person because he might have been homeless as well. The detective could not say if she was attacked because she was transgender,” said Van Gilst. 

“She has been struggling with mental health issues for a long time, going back to when she was in her early 20s. We did everything we could to help her. My wife is devastated. For her, this is like a nightmare that turned into reality. Andrea moved around a lot and even lived in California for a while. She was sadly homeless. I feel the system let her down. She was a good person,” he added.

Gregory Fitzgerald Gibert booking photo via CBS Miami.

The Miami Police Department arrested Gibert, collected his clothing, noting the red shorts were the same type in the video and had blood on them. Blood was also found on his shoes, according to police. He was taken into custody and charged. 

“The suspect has an extensive criminal record and reportedly was recently released from custody on probation for prior criminal charges. Police apprehended the suspect in the city of Miami and the investigation is currently ongoing. This case is further evidence that individuals need to be held accountable for prior violent crimes for the protection of the public. We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victim,” Miami Beach Mayor Steve Meiner said in a statement. 

Joe Saunders, senior political director with LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida, told the Miami Herald that “whenever a transgender person is murdered, especially when it is with such brutality, the question should be asked about whether or not this was a hate-motivated crime.”

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Florida

Professor at Baptist university in Virginia found dead in Florida gay sauna 

Orlando police say cause of death undetermined

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A beloved professor of psychology at Averett University, a private Baptist university in Danville, Va., was found dead on March 16 of unknown causes at the Club Orlando, a popular sauna and bathhouse for gay men located in Orlando, Fla.

University officials said David Hanbury, 37, an Associate Professor of Psychology who taught at the university since 2015, was in Orlando attending a conference of the Southern Psychological Association and had initially been reported missing by family members before he was found deceased.

Orlando police told USA Today the cause of death had not been determined but the death “does not appear suspicious at this time.” USA Today reports that police said their investigation into the death was “active and ongoing.”

A spokesperson for the Orange County, Fla., Medical Examiner told the Washington Blade it would take about 90 days for the completion of blood work and toxicology tests to confirm the cause of death in a case like this, where there were no obvious signs of injury or illness.

Cassie W. Jones, Associate Vice President of University Marketing and Communications at Averett University, declined to disclose whether Hanbury self-identified as gay in response to an inquiry from the Blade

“As an employer, we cannot comment on our employees’ personal matters,” Jones said. But when asked if the university would have continued to treat Hanbury with respect and support his tenure at the university if he had come out as gay, she said “absolutely” in an email response to Blade questions.

“Dr. David Hanbury was a dear professor, colleague and friend whose influence was far reaching,” Jones said in a March 21 message to the Blade, “We send our affection, condolences, and prayers of support to Dr. Hanbury’s family, friends and all others upon whom he had a lasting impact.”

The Averett University website shows that it has a policy of nondiscrimination that includes the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity among other categories such as race, religion, and ethnicity. The website also shows that the university has an LGBTQ student group called the Gender and Sexuality Alliance or GSA group. 

Jones said the admiration and longstanding support of Hanbury from his fellow professors and students was reflected in a March 18 memorial gathering for him on campus.

“Nearly 250 students, faculty, staff, and community members joined as one Averett family, united in grief and sorrow, as we gave thanks for the remarkable life and influence of Dr. Hanbury on our lives and on the University,” Jones said.

“Averett University is committed to inclusion and belonging for all who learn, work and visit our campus,” Jone told the Blade. “Openness and inclusivity are embedded in our institution’s core values, and we know our diversity makes us stronger.”

The Baptist Standard, an independent newspaper  that reports on the Baptist Church, reported in a May 9, 2011, story that the Baptist General Association of Virginia severed ties with Averett University in 2005 over a disagreement with the university’s position on homosexuality. Other news reports at the time said the Baptist organization objected to the university’s support for a gay student group.

Jones, in her message to the Blade, said Averett University currently “is a part of the Baptist General Association of Virginia family of educational partners.” She added, “We are aligned in our commitment to meet students wherever they are in their faith journey, and welcome those of all faiths or no faith.”  

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Settlement and clarification reached in Fla. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed statute in 2022

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A protest against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jack Petocz)

A settlement reached with the Florida State Board of Education, Florida Department of Education and various school districts and the attorneys and plaintiffs clarifies what is allowed in Florida classrooms under the state’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the agreement with the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The agreement effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts of the law, and makes clear that the law must be applied neutrally and is no license to discriminate against or erase LGBTQ+ families.

Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz, who led the statewide student protest against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in March 2022, reacted in a text message to the Washington Blade saying:

“LGBTQ+ students and allies are breathing a sigh of relief today in response to the news that litigation has successfully mediated some of the most extreme aspects of Gov. DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation. Just about two years ago, we led a statewide school walkout all across the state of Florida in response to that bill. We knew then that it infringed on the basic civil liberties of students and teachers and we look forward to future challenges to other pieces of authoritarian legislation.”

“The settlement restores the ability of students, teachers and others in Florida schools to speak and write freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in class participation and schoolwork,” the legal teams noted in a statement. “It also restores safeguards against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and reinstates Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Critically, the settlement also requires the State Board of Education to send today’s agreement to every school district, and to make clear that the settlement reflects the considered position of the state of Florida on the scope and meaning of this law.” the statement continued.

Specifically, the historic settlement agreement clarifies the following:

  • Classroom references. The law does not prohibit references to LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues, including in literature, in classroom discussion (such as student-to-student speech or teachers responding to students’ questions), in students’ academic work product or teachers’ review of the same, in teachers identifying same-sex or transgender spouses or partners, or in any other context in which a teacher is not “instructing” on the subject of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Nondiscrimination. The law does not target LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families or issues. Rather, it requires neutrality and prohibits “classroom instruction” on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether the subject addresses heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, cisgender identities, transgender identities or otherwise. It would violate the law, then, to instruct that heterosexuality is superior to other sexualities, or that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities.
  • Anti-bullying and acceptance. The law does not prohibit instruction or intervention against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require the removal of safe space stickers or elimination of safe space areas for the benefit of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • Extracurricular activities. The law does not prohibit Gay-Straight Alliances, including student attendance or participation by teachers or other faculty members. The law also does not prohibit book fairs that include LGBTQ+ focused books, musicals or plays with LGBTQ+ references or characters, participation and expression by LGBTQ+ persons in other extracurricular events like school dances, or the wearing of clothing that is affiliated with LGBTQ+ persons or issues or that does not conform with one’s perceived gender identity.
  • Library books. The law does not apply to library books, so long as those books are not being used in the classroom to instruct on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Third parties. The law does not apply to non-school-personnel, including parents, other family members, and guest lecturers, so long as the school is not delegating to such third party the role of providing classroom instruction on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We made a promise to LGBTQ+ families, students and educators across the state to ensure that they received equal dignity under the law, and to protect our schools from a censorship agenda that harms the education system as a whole,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. “Florida has already endured nearly two years of book banning, educators leaving the profession and safe space stickers being ripped off of classroom windows in the wake of this law cynically targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This settlement is a giant step toward repairing the immense damage these laws and the dangerous political rhetoric has inflicted on our families, our schools and our state. The message to school districts, superintendents and teachers alike is clear: Protect every student and respect every family.”

In early 2022, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The plaintiffs sued the next day, alleging that the law was impermissibly vague, was obviously motivated by hostility to LGBTQ people and families and created an enforcement system that enabled discrimination and discouraged efforts to fight it. The plaintiffs claimed that the law violated their rights to equal protection, due process, and free speech. The plaintiffs litigated aggressively, and engaged in months of negotiations with the state’s lawyers to forge Monday’s historic settlement.

“This settlement is a huge victory for our community, both in Florida and nationally. It not only reverses the censorship and intimidation created by Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law, it codifies important new protections that were not previously clearly established, such as the right of teachers and staff to talk about LGBTQ people, to put safe space stickers in their classrooms, and to be open about their own LGBTQ identities or same-sex partners, just as straight teachers are able to be,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter in a phone statement to the Blade. “I am thrilled to be part of this historic moment, which is a strong sign that the tide of anti-LGBTQ hatred and persecution is turning, thanks to the hard work of so many.” 

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf issued the following statement:

“This is more evidence: The tide is turning on the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. In state legislatures and courtrooms in Florida and beyond, discriminatory policies are starting to collapse. The DeSantis administration was forced to acknowledge that their vague, broad law was having sweeping consequences. And this settlement makes clear that every student deserves a safe, welcoming school environment where their families are treated with the respect that they deserve — and that what applies to LGBTQ+ people must apply to others equally. Thank you to the legal team and courageous plaintiffs for challenging this discriminatory law.”

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