Florida teacher breaks silence after being investigated for showing Disney film with gay character

Jenna Barbee Strange World

A Florida teacher, who is being investigated for showing a Disney movie featuring a gay character to her class, has said she was “never trying to indoctrinate students”.

Fifth-grade teacher Jenna Barbee is being investigated by the state after screening the 2022 Disney animated film, Strange World, as a “brain break” following a morning of exams. 

The film features Ethan, an openly gay character, who has a romantic storyline with his crush, Diazo. 

Barbee explained in a TikTok that the LGBTQ+ storyline was not the reason she showed the movie, but rather that the film – about a family of explorers journeying through a mysterious land – fitted in with the science curriculum. 

Speaking out for the first time since the investigation was announced, Barbee told CNN that she hadn’t realised Florida’s recently expanded Don’t Say Gay law applied to her grade level. 

“I just found out today that they increased it to my level,” she said on Monday (15 May). “I had no idea whatsoever that this was such a big deal.”

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The parent who reported her is also a member of the Hernando County school district board, according to CNN.

The parent, Shannon Rodriguez, reportedly said at a school board meeting: “It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child… but allowing movies such as this assists teachers in opening a door… for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”

Barbee responded by saying students are already discussing LGBTQ+ issues on their own, and that “this door that she’s talking about, it’s been open”. 

Barbee said that her pupils “didn’t even know this was a big deal until the board member and the state made it a big deal”.

She added: “They’re using it against me, saying they’re ‘protecting the children’ and it’s for their safety. But what is this actually showing them?

“I was never trying to indoctrinate my students by showing them something that had differences and diversity. I was showing them a movie that related to our curriculum and our Earth, that also taught many valuable life lessons that correlate to our Florida best standards.”

The investigation comes as Florida governor Ron DeSantis seeks to crack down on LGBTQ+ material in classrooms, with his controversial Don’t Say Gay law being expanded to now covers all school grades in the Sunshine state. 

Legislation passed in April means all students in Florida are prohibited from discussing LGBTQ+ issues in class, ​​with the law also requiring school staff and pupils to address people by pronouns which correspond to their assigned sex at birth. It also gives parents more power to challenge books or materials that they feel are inappropriate. 

DeSantis appears to be gearing up for a 2024 presidential run, with laws brought in to limit abortion, enable doctors to refuse care, based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs, and a ban on discussions of racial issues, likely to appeal to Republican voters.

Cathryn Oakley, a Human Rights Campaign state legislative director and senior counsel, claimed: “Ron DeSantis and extremist legislators in Florida are some of the most anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in America and an existential threat to every LGBTQ+ person in Florida and beyond.

“DeSantis has made [it] clear that demonising LGBTQ+ people will be [at] the centre of his legislative agenda and presidential run. As a result, the rights of millions of Floridians are being rolled back by politicians who are attacking the LGBTQ+ community at breakneck pace to pander to the most extreme fringes of their base.”

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