Florida’s Senate on Thursday voted to remove lessons about gender identity and race from public schools and workplaces that may cause “guilt,” sending yet another piece of controversial legislation to the governor’s desk for final approval.
Florida’s Individual Freedom bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. in January, was passed Thursday by a vote of 24 to 15. The legislation is part of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Stop Woke Act,” where woke is used as an acronym for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” which has been touted by the governor as one of his administration’s top priorities.
The bill removes the word “gender” from statutory language, replacing it, in most cases, with the word “sex.” It also replaces the word “ethnicity” with “color.”
Under the bill, the definition of discrimination is broadened to include making another person feel uncomfortable over historic actions by their race, nationality or gender.
That has implications for private businesses too, and companies asking employees to undergo implicit bias or sexual harassment training could face legal liability, as “uncomfortable” workers may sue because they feel they have been discriminated against.
The legislation is part of a wider Republican-led crusade against Critical Race Theory, which addresses systemic and institutional racism in the U.S.
DeSantis has previously referred to Critical Race Theory as “state-sanctioned racism,” and the state’s Department of Education over the summer banned Critical Race Theory from public school classrooms, grouping it in the same category as Holocaust denial and other “theories that distort historical events.”
Florida Democrats on Thursday argued that Critical Race Theory is not being taught in state public schools, rendering the proposed legislation unnecessary.
“No one is teaching critical race theory,” state Sen. Audrey Gibson (D) said Thursday. “This is a bill in search of a problem that we don’t have.”
Gibson added that the bill is purely “politically driven” and “designed to create division.”
The bill stipulates that schools may teach students about slavery and the history of racial segregation and discrimination in an “age-appropriate manner,” but instruction may not attempt to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”
In a statement on Thursday, Genesis Robinson, the political director of Equal Ground Action Fund, a Black-led Florida nonprofit, said the legislature should be “ashamed” of itself for passing legislation that will “erase years of progress on race in the state of Florida.”
“Simply put, for Black people and all people of color across the state, this bill is whitewashing our history in America because conversations about historical, factual events may make white students, their parents, and employees uncomfortable,” he said. “When Gov. DeSantis signs this legislation, not only will he be sending a clear message that the feelings of some are given more deference than the lived experiences of Black people in Florida, he will be dishonoring the sacrifice and struggle of our ancestors.”
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