A flood of students protested the passing of House bill 1557, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, outside the Florida state Capitol while the Senate debated pushing the bill forward. Sen. Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay senator, broke down in tears during the debate as he made his remarks on the bill, reported the Advocate.
The bill prohibits school districts from discussing sexuality and gender in primary schools or in ways that are not “age-appropriate,” reported ABC News. However, Jones proposed a middle ground. With his amendment, the instruction of sexuality and gender would not be allowed through third grade and limited at other grade levels to be “age-appropriate,” per the Advocate. This way, the bill would be focused strictly on how topics are discussed in academia versus threatening educators.
His amendment failed on a 22-16 vote.
From the Advocate:
“I don’t think y’all understand how much courage it takes to show up every day,” Jones said. “Imagine living your life for 30 years and you coming to your parents and you talk about who you are. And you’re lying to them about who you are.”
That’s what Jones did most of his adult life, living in an opposite-sex marriage for years as a closeted gay man. He came out publicly only after a divorce and his final House election. But he braced for the issue coming out as he pursued becoming the first LGBTQ+ member of the Florida Senate.
“I don’t think you understand that even re-running for office, it was difficult because people call you names, people saying things to you,” he said. “And all you want to do is serve.
Jones went even further to describe how his family was treated differently because he came out. He swelled up with tears reading an excerpt from a book published about his deceased brother by his father, former West Park Mayor Eric Jones. Eric Jones noted how disappointed he was in finding out his son was gay, per the Advocate.
Jones personal experiences are the reason why he believes students should be able to discuss gender and sexuality. Kids should have a safe environment at home and at school to express themselves. Jones said, per the Advocate, that no teacher could change a student’s identity.
“Whatever this bill is supposed to do, let that bill do it. But like the Hippocratic Oath says, please do no harm,” said Jones.