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Hundreds rally in Sarasota to push back against a Florida bill that would impact LGBTQ children

 During Sunday's rally in Sarasota, a 700-foot pride flag—the world’s largest—was walked across the John Ringling bridge.
Nancy Guth
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During Sunday's rally in Sarasota, a 700-foot pride flag—the world’s largest—was walked across the John Ringling bridge.

Hundreds of people gathered in Sarasota Sunday to rally against a bill which they say targets LGBTQ children.

The proposal, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, bans lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation for grades K-through-3. For older kids, discussion must be “age-appropriate,” but the bill does not clarify what age-appropriate means.

Sunday’s rally was capped off as a crowd of supporters carried a 700-foot pride flag across the John Ringling Causeway.

During the event, dozens of speakers — including students and local officials — urged the crowd to speak out against the proposal.

Sarasota City Commissioner and former Mayor Hagen Brody called the bill “state sponsored homophobia.”

Donna Hanley with Project Pride SRQ said most young people have moved past culture wars when it comes to gay rights.

"If you were to poll a youth of any school around the country, they're probably saying you know, that's not a big deal for us anymore,” she said. “The bigger deal is, we don't have enough teachers, or we don't have enough money for books. So, this bill is discriminatory against a group of people who cannot speak for themselves."

 Critics call a proposal before the Florida legislature, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It bans discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
Nancy Guth
/
Critics call a proposal before the Florida legislature, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It bans discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Nicholas Machuca, of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, says the bill is an attack on the state’s young LGBTQ population, which already faces greater risk of self-harm and suicide.

"To pass a law or to advance a bill that makes it so that teachers, who are often students' best allies, can't even discuss these issues is going to have a chilling effect,” he said. “It's going to further isolate LGBTQ students across the state.”

Florida's House of Representatives passed its version of the bill Thursday. Its Senate companion has one last hearing on Monday.

If approved, it would then go to the full chamber for a final vote and then to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has previously signaled his support for the legislation.

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Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.