Florida’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill was debated by the state’s Senate yesterday, and things got pretty emotional.
Aimed at schools, HB 1557 seeks to ban the discussion of LGBTQ topics mainly at the primary grade level. However, it will also limit discussion when “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.
One of those to speak yesterday was the state’s only out, gay Senator, Shevrin Jones. He came out in 2018, aged 34, after being in an opposite-sex marriage for several years.
Previous to the debate, he’d posted a photo of himself with the word ‘gay’ taped over his mouth.
The FL Senate will take up the Parental Rights (Don’t Say Gay) bill tomorrow on the floor. As the 1st LGBTQ person elected to the Senate in FL’s history, I want to remind my colleagues that I am not a hypothetical, I sit in the same room w/ you, and your actions and words matter. pic.twitter.com/aalHzCjPoD
— Shevrin “Shev” Jones (@ShevrinJones) March 6, 2022
In the chamber yesterday, Jones spoke movingly about his own struggles to come out. He also said he was greatly moved by the number of young people who showed up outside the Senate to protest against the bill.
“Thoughts ran through my mind after I lost my brother, because I never got a chance to tell him. So I ask you all, whatever this bill is supposed to do, let this bill do that…but please, do no harm.”@shevrinjones , FL’s first openly-LGBTQ State Sen., with powerful remarks. pic.twitter.com/sz1j6hoqDl
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 7, 2022
Jones became overwhelmed talking about his father, pastor and former West Park Mayor Eric Jones. His dad has recently written a book in which he talks about the death of Shevrin’s brother, Kaneil. However, another part of the book discusses the disappointment he felt when Shevrin came out.
An emotional Jones says, “It was my dad talking about his disappointment. After me, after taking 30 years, of just wanting to make him and my mom proud. And just coming out and saying who I am.
“So when I see these kids, I don’t think y’all understand how much courage it takes to show up every day,” Jones said. “Imagine living your life for 30 years and you coming to your parents and you talk about who you are. And you’re lying to them about who you are.”
“I never wanted to disappoint my dad,” Jones said, breaking down again. “I even told him to watch this today.”
“I don’t think you understand that even re-running for office, it was difficult because people call you names, people saying things to you,” he said. “And all you want to do is serve.
“I never knew that living my truth would cause church members to leave my dad’s church or friends to stop talking to me or families to make jokes about who you are.”
He added: “I ask that you open up your hearts a tad bit. Don’t think about whether you can get re-elected or not.”
Jones was one of several Democrats to propose changes to the bill in an attempt to soften it. His proposed amendment added a clarification that prohibited school instruction “intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. That amendment failed on a 22-16 vote, as did other proposed alterations.
One of the chief supporters of the bill is GOP Senator Dennis Baxley. He argued against a proposed amendment by Democrat Senator Gary Farmer to remove language about sexual orientation and gender identity from HB 1557. Baxley objected, saying this “actually pretty much guts the bill.”
Baxley was asked why the legislation focused on sexual orientation and gender identity instead of topics such as drugs and suicide—issues others believe shouldn’t be discussed with primary school kids. The Senator said he believed too many kids were “experimenting” these days or coming out for instant celebrity status.
After hours of denying his bill singled out gays, Senator @dennisbaxley admitted the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill was drafted because he was personally concerned so many kids today identify as gay and see themselves as “celebrities.” @CBSMiami pic.twitter.com/VI9cGiBNiN
— Jim DeFede (@DeFede) March 8, 2022
In a separate part of the debate, Baxley said, “the definition of sexual orientation for me is male and female.”
“Well, you’re going a little deeper than I want to go, sexual orientation to me is male and female 🤷🏼”
— Florida Planned Parenthood Action (@FAPPA) March 8, 2022
HB 1557 is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate today. Governor Ron DeSantis has already indicated he supports the bill as it stands. Yesterday, he lashed out at a reporter who asked him if he supported the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation, saying, “We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their children to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their curriculum.”
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 7, 2022