LGBTQ+ teachers told to hide who they are as Don’t Say Gay goes into effect

A person wearing a white shirt holds up a rainbow flag during a demonstration denouncing Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law

LGBTQ+ teachers in Florida said they’ve been told they must hide their identities while at work so as not to violate the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.

Educators and staff in Orange County, Florida have reported they’ve been told to remove pictures of their families from classrooms if they have a partner of the same gender or talking about their partner with students, WFTV reported. 

Teachers were also told not to wear any rainbow-coloured clothing at work and must also scrape off rainbow “Safe Space” stickers – which signal to students that the educators are LGBTQ+ friendly – from classroom doors. 

The instructions came after a closed-door seminar between Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) administrators and attorneys. During the meeting, OSPC attorneys advised principals across the school district on what would and wouldn’t be legal under Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which is slated to take effect Friday (1 July). 

Staff said they were informed about the new policies by representatives from the Florida classroom teachers association (CTA).

The CTA told WFTV that teachers will be forced to tell parents if a student “comes out” to them. The group reported that teachers were also told they must use pronouns associated with the gender they were assigned at birth – regardless of what the parents allow – meaning staff must misgender trans students at school. 

Clinton McCracken, president-elect of the CTA, said it will be “alarming” if the school district “chooses to interpret this law in the most extreme way”.

“We want them to protect student privacy,” McCracken said. “We want them to make sure that they’re creating and helping to create safe classrooms. We believe our school board supports that.”

A person wearing a white shirt with a rainbow heart on it shouts as they hold up a pink sign that reads "GAY" during a protest against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' legislation

The Florida classroom teachers association said it would be “alarming” if Orange County Public Schools forced LGBTQ+ staff to hide their identities at work. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty)

A representative for OCPS confirmed to WFTV that the seminar happened and was part of annual training. But they said the guidance for teachers and staff was not a planned part of the seminar. 

The representative added administrators “posed hypothetical scenarios based upon the new statues” during the presentation and that “verbal answers were provided based on the limited guidance” from Florida’s department of education. 

“Once further guidance is received from the Florida Department of Education, the district will provide formal guidance to administrators and staff,” the official said. 

Another OCPS official said in a separate conversation that the district needed to be cautious in the wake of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law going into effect until the state provided more clarity on how the legislation would be enforced. 

The official said the moves were put in place to protect students and teachers, and they claimed teachers could have their licenses revoked if they break the law. 

The reviled law was signed by Republican governor Ron DeSantis in March and bans the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics between kindergarten and third grade. After third grade, these topics must be “age appropriate”.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis wears a light blue button up shirt and dark blue suit jacket as he speaks into a microphone in front of a crowd of people. He is gesturing with one hand as several people stand behind him

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation into law in March. (Getty/Joe Raedle)

Many LGBTQ+ advocates have blasted the legislation for the harm it may cause to queer kids in the state. President Joe Biden slammed the “hateful” measure and vowed to “continue to fight” for the “protections and safety” LGBTQ+ people deserve. 

In April, an Orlando area middle school science teacher told NBC News that he was leaving the profession after a group of parents demanded there be “consequences” against him for acknowledging his marriage to another man. 

Robert Thollander left the school after 11 years of working in Florida as a teacher and said the incident made him feel like he “wasn’t trusted because there’s something wrong” with him for being gay. 

“It makes it seem like being gay is something vile or disturbing or disgusting when it’s described as making children uncomfortable knowing that I’m married to a man,” Thollander said. “It hurt.” 

Nicolette Solomon, a teacher in Miami-Dade County, told the outlet that the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law would “erase” her as an “LGBTQ” teacher”. 

“Nobody would be able to know, which then puts me in the closet, and I’m there seven hours a day, if not more, five days a week,” Solomon added. “I wouldn’t be able to be who I am.”