The Florida House today began moving forward with a proposal that would restrict the types of flags that can be displayed at government buildings and schools, including preventing the display of LGBTQ pride flags. That ban has long been enforced in Flagler schools, based on an interpretation of local policy.
The bill (HB 901), sponsored by Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, and Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, drew heavy opposition from LGBTQ people, activists and parents and refueled legislative battles that have raged in recent years about LGBTQ-related issues.
Supporters said the bill is aimed at preventing “indoctrination” at places such as schools.
“This is something that literally is bringing us back to the focus of education and not indoctrination,” Rep. Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, said.
But Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami Beach, said the bill “validates hate” and poses constitutional questions.
“The problem with this bill is, in addition to the constitutional issues, that it fosters the same kind of intolerance that breeds the violence that makes our communities unsafe,” Joseph said. “And how it does that is by, instead of fostering tolerance, we focus on intolerance for culture wars.”
Flagler County schools have banned the display of LGBTQ flags since 2022. That spring, then-Flgagler Palm Coast High School student Jack Petocz organized a protest on school grounds against a bill–since enacted as law–that bans discussion of gender roles and sexuality (often referred to as the “don;t say gay” law). Petocz distributed Pride flags. He was suspended for several days, as were others, some of them waving a MAGA flag. (See: “‘Handful’ of Students Suspended Up to 3 Days Following Thursday ‘Say Gay’ Walkouts and Fight Over Trump Flag.”)
After Petocz’s suspension, students and others organized a protest outside FPC that included the waving of a giant section from an iconic Pride flag. (See: “A Storied Gay-Pride Flag Doubles Down Outside FPC as Veterans Lead Protest of Student Leader’s Suspension.”) A month later in Flagler Beach, Eryn Harris, founder of Flagler Pride, organized a demonstration lush in Pride flags in part in response to what, at the time, had been regular appearances by demonstrators with obscene, MAGA-themed signs at the corner of State Road 100 and State Road A1A. The protest also called out other anti-LGBTQ efforts in the state.
The previous year, when LGBTQ advocates, most of them students, demonstrated outside the Government Services Building in Bunnell, they were the target of attacks and obscenities by counter-demonstrators, all of them adults, many of them non-residents who had driven in for the taunting, and led . (See: “Student Protesters Face Hail of Vile Obscenities, Taunts and Threats From Group Claiming to Speak For Children.”)
The anti-LGBTQ movement in Flagler schools, however, is in the ascendant, especially after the election of Will Furry and Christy Chong to the school board in 2022 (though two predecessors, Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright, had been no less militantly opposed to LGBTQ equality, displays, or LGBTQ-themed books in school libraries: Woolbright filed a criminal complaint against then-Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt over the presence of certain LGBTQ-themed books in libraries. A book-banning frenzy followed.)
Last February, Chong demanded that a “Safe Space” sign imprinted on a background showing the Pride flag be removed from a classroom at Matanzas High School. (See: “School Board’s Chong Demands ‘Safe Space’ Sign Be Removed Seconds After Decrying Violence at Matanzas.”) No one on the school board, even its two supporters of LGBTQ rights, objected. Weeks later, Chong rallied in support of a student who vandalized civil-rights inspired posters in a display from a social studies class, among them some bearing emblems of LGBTQ rights. (See: “FPC Student Vandalizes ‘Offensive’ Civil Rights-Inspired Posters. School Board’s Chong Rallies To His Side.”)
In short, the flag-banning bill making its way through the Legislature–in essence, Don;t Wave Gay–has been enacted in Flagler schools for two years.
The Republican-controlled House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee voted 9-5 along party lines to approve the bill, which needs to clear the State Affairs Committee before it could go to the full House. A similar Senate bill (SB 1120) has not been heard in committees midway through the second week of the 60-day legislative session.
The House bill does not specifically name flags that would be barred from being displayed at public buildings and schools. But, in part, it would prevent the display of flags that represent a “political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.”
It would not affect flying such things as the U.S. flag, the state flag and the POW-MIA flag.
In addition to pride flags, lawmakers said the bill could prevent display of flags representing such things as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Supporters said the measure would not prevent people from flying flags at their homes or other private places, just not at government buildings.
“I don’t want the Hamas flag flying in this room,” Fine said, referring to the House committee room. “I don’t want the Black Lives Matter flag flying in this room, and I don’t want the Trump for president flag flying in this room. Those aren’t appropriate. They’re not appropriate in this room, they’re not appropriate in our schools, they’re not appropriate in our government buildings.”
But Rep. Johanna Lopez, D-Orlando, said the bill is “not about indoctrination. It’s about discrimination.”
“I think we should be fostering communities of inclusion, and I think this bill is moving us backwards and not forwards,” Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg, said.
Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent years have approved a series of controversial measures related to LGBTQ people and issues, such as bills that prevent instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. They have also targeted the teaching of Black and minority histories. This session, lawmakers have introduced what Equality Florida, the LGBTQ advoicacy organization, has dubbed the Don’t Say Gay or Trans at Work (HB 599/SB 1382) and the Trans Erasure (HB 1233 & HB 1639) bills “fueled,” the organization states, “by a sinister belief that transgender people do not exist and that government should be weaponized to exclude them from public life.”
“Transgender people have always existed, and we have a right to live our lives free from the relentless harassment and demonization perpetuated by Governor DeSantis and his extremist allies for their cynical political purposes,” said Angelique Godwin, Equality Florida’s TransAction Special Events Coordinator. “Our community deserves equality under the law and the right to live authentically without being weaponized for divisive agendas. DeSantis’s extremist rhetoric not only undermines our liberty but has also made Florida less safe. We are not pawns in a political game; we are people with the right to dignity, equality, and a life free from constant slander and discrimination.”
Godwin spoke at a rally organized in defense of LGBTQ rights at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida