On CNN, Equality Florida's Brandon Wolf discusses “chilling effects” of Florida's Don't Say Gay expansion

Wolf: “What you're really saying is that teachers can no longer or should no longer feel comfortable talking about the realities of our society and our families.”

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Citation From the March 23, 2023, edition of CNN's Newsroom

JESSICA DEAN (CO-HOST): Brandon Wolf is the Press Secretary for Equality Florida, which is the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in that state. Brandon, nice to see you. Thanks for making time this afternoon. Walk us through what concerns you most about this law. 

BRANDON WOLF (PRESS SECRETARY, EQUALITY FLORIDA): Well there are a number of terrible things that are a part of this proposal. Number one is that it targets individual educators. If you remember last year when we were debating the initial law, we were told that this was really narrowly focused on holding school districts accountable, but as proposed this new State Board of Education policy would actually make teachers individually liable, putting their professional licenses on the line. This comes at a time when we already have 8,000 vacant teacher positions in the state of Florida, largely because they have undergone character assassination over the last couple of years. And it's interesting that the Education Commissioner there, Manny Diaz, talked about clarifying things because what the State Board of Education and the Department of Education as a whole has refused to do is clarify the vague language that's originally in this law that has led to books being banned, that has led to censorship of rainbow safe space stickers in classrooms, that lead to places like Miami Dade refusing to recognize LGBTQ history month. They've been asked to define what classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity means and they have refused to at every step of the way. But instead they're going to impose new restrictions, they are going to impose new liability on individual educators, threatening their livelihoods for something they themselves refuse to define in law. 

BORIS SANCHEZ (CO-HOST): Brandon, I'm wondering what you make of the argument from Ron DeSantis and his allies that conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation are best had by parents at home with kids and not in class with their teachers. 

WOLF: Well listen, I think everyone wants parents to be deeply involved in education. I know my education was at its best when my parents were deeply involved, were showing up to after school activities and parent teacher conferences. But ask yourself what those words actually mean, sexual orientation and gender identity, and what a blanket prohibition on any instruction incorporating those topics might look like. Does that mean that, for instance, Romeo and Juliet will no longer be allowed to be discussed in classrooms? What about any other book that features you know, a mom and a dad or two moms or two dads, you know? Think about the first grade reading book that's been recommended by the state of Florida that includes Benjamin Franklin and talks about his relationship with his wife. When you start to talk about a blanket prohibition on acknowledging that people fall in love with other people, and that people have families, you can see why we've ended up in a place where, you know, there are upwards of 100 or 200 books being challenged in school districts across the state. You can see why we're in a place where a book like And Tango Makes Three, which is the animated retelling of a true story from the Central Park Zoo of two male penguins raising a chick together, why that book has been challenged and banned in a number of school districts across the state. You can see why in a free state, as Ron DeSantis likes to say it, like Florida people are concerned about banning books and censoring history and curriculum, because when you put in a blanket prohibition on topics of sexual orientation and gender identity, what you're really saying is that teachers can no longer or should no longer feel comfortable talking about the realities of our society and our families.

DEAN: So it sounds like Brandon based on what you're saying that this specifically comes down to like the specificity around this, that it's that it's loosely defined and thus has a chilling effect on educators. Is that what you're saying? 

WOLF: Yeah, well, we've undergone a year of that chilling effect, and I think that's why people are so frustrated. I'm frustrated for parents and families in Florida who've been lied to for a year, who've been gas lit. In the very beginning we were told that this bill was narrow in scope, that it was only intended to do a handful of things, but that the language had to remain vague and broad on purpose. And as a result, we've watched as again, Miami Dade county refused to recognize LGBTQ history month or, you know, when we saw yearbooks trying to be censored in Orange County, when we saw teachers in Orange County being told to hide family photos and their desks. All of that, all of those chilling effects have been in direct response to this law, which the State Department, which Department of Education refuses to clarify the language of and then comes out and says not only will we not clarify the language, but we're actually going to expand the prohibition to 12th grade and put legal liability on individual educators.

SANCHEZ: I think it's important to mention, too, that this is being approved not by state lawmakers at the Statehouse but rather by the Board of Educators, all of which were appointed by Ron DeSantis. That vote scheduled for April 19th. Brandon Wolff, thank you so much for the time.