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Florida Lt. Gov. says 'good luck' to attempts to repeal so-called 'Don't Say Gay' law

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

A new Florida law now has its first lawsuit. The law bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. Critics believe it's written specifically to discourage any mention of LGBTQ topics in school at any age. They call it the "Don't Say Gay" law, and gay rights groups are now suing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to block it. Earlier today, I spoke with Florida's lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nunez. Welcome to the program.

JEANETTE NUNEZ: Thank you for having me.

SNELL: Can you start by talking about the goal of this bill? What is the intent?

NUNEZ: First and foremost, the bill is about not just protecting parents' rights but empowering parents. This bill is about three fundamental things. It is about making sure that school districts will not have the ability to shield or hide information from parents about services offered to their children. Secondly, the bill prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K through three. It does not reference discussions or questions that students may have. It is specific about classroom instruction. And then finally, it ensures that whenever a questionnaire or health screening is given to any student in the K through three grades, parents will receive it first, and they'll provide permission for the school to administer said questionnaires.

SNELL: So children ask adults and, really, their teachers a lot of questions about life and things like, why does their friend have two moms or two dads? Does that interaction require mandated state intervention under this law?

NUNEZ: Any number of hypothetical scenarios were asked at every stage of this bill, and it's been very clear that there is nothing in the legislation - there is no attempt to silence a child's question or to silence or erase a child's history. They have two moms, and they want to share it in a family tree, or they want to talk about it. Nothing will preclude that child from sharing their family history, their questions. This is solely about classroom instruction, curriculum that will be embedded with topics that we feel are best left for older grades. We feel that they're best left, quite frankly, to the family in the home.

SNELL: We have been speaking with teachers and parents in Florida, and I'd like to listen to one of the teachers our reporter spoke with. This is Clinton McCracken. He's a middle school teacher, he teaches art in Orlando and he is gay.

CLINTON MCCRACKEN: This is a created culture war from him so that he can achieve his political ambitions. That's all this is. So I'm not teaching kids how to be gay in my classroom, but I'll tell you what I am doing. I am trying with all my power to teach kids to be OK with who they are.

SNELL: So the him he's referring to there is the governor. And I'm wondering how you respond to that.

NUNEZ: Well, I'd respond by telling him, read the bill - has nothing to do with middle school. This is grades K through three.

SNELL: The bill sponsors explicitly say that they intend for this to apply to students all the way up to high school.

NUNEZ: No, no. The bill's very specific about prohibiting classroom instruction grades K through three. There's no denying it. Again, read the bill. However, as it relates to the higher grades, it says as age appropriate, developmentally appropriate. And so I think that when you look at age appropriateness, whether it's regarding Holocaust curriculum, human trafficking or other curriculum, I think we all agree that it should be age appropriate.

SNELL: So on a slightly different aspect of this, are you concerned about the safety and mental health of the students who fear what will come as a result of this bill? Just to give you some context, the Trevor Project found last year that 42% of LGBTQ students have considered attempting suicide. And in Florida, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 10% of students said they were victims of physical assault because of how students viewed their sexuality or gender identity.

NUNEZ: We're not concerned about this creating a potential negative or a potential harmful situation because we made provisions for instances where the teacher or the counselor may feel that that child may be in danger of neglect, abandonment or abuse. That is contemplated in the bill.

SNELL: Let me turn you to the potential economic consequences of the law. Disney has said it's going to do everything in its power to get this law overturned. Do you have any concerns about picking a fight with one of your state's largest employers, one that brings in millions of tourists and billions of dollars to your state?

NUNEZ: Not at all. We will never back down from a fight, especially when it's a matter of principle. And when you look at Disney, when you look at where they have come on this position, on this issue, they have kowtowed to an agenda that we believe is a radical agenda. And for them to say they're going to work to repeal this bill, well, good luck with that.

SNELL: Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez. Thank you so much for your time.

NUNEZ: Thank you. Absolutely. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.