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A bill that limits pronouns teachers can use is raising concerns for parents of transgender children

A woman in a black shirt and jacket stands and speaks before a committee of lawmakers
The Florida Channel
Shanna Callahan is concerned about the impact the bill could have on her transgender son.

Teachers will be limited to using only the pronouns that correspond with their students’ sex assigned at birth under a bill moving through the Florida legislature. The measure is an expansion of the so called “Don’t Say Gay” bill lawmakers passed last year.

Rep. Adam Anderson (R-Tarpon Springs) said his bill is about protecting the rights of parents. He said he's heard from parents who are concerned about how gender identity is discussed in their kid’s classrooms.

But during a committee hearing on the bill lawmakers questioned which parents’ rights would be protected. Rep. Susan Valdes (D-Tampa) asked the bill sponsor what happens if a parent wants their child to use a specific pronoun.

“If a student and a parent voluntarily provide to a teacher that this is the pronoun that they would like to be referred to, can the teacher use the pronoun if the teacher chooses to do so and respect that parent’s request," Valdes asked.

Anderson said "the short answer to that question is no." The teacher could NOT use that pronoun if it does not correspond with the student's sex assigned at birth.

“We have to realize there are 19 or 25 other students in that classroom and it may not be appropriate for those kids and those parents may not know that that pronoun is being used or that discussion is happening in that classroom and those parents have rights as well," Anderson explained.

Anderson said under his bill there’s no rule about how teachers and faculty can use pronouns when talking amongst themselves and there’s no rule about how students can use pronouns with each other, but in he said his bill does specify that in K-12 classrooms teachers must use the pronouns that correspond to the sex their students were assigned at birth and teachers cannot ask students to refer to them using any title or pronoun that does not correspond with their sex assigned at birth.

That will create a traumatic and confusing entry into 5th grade for Shannon Callahan's transgender son who she said is proud, but private about his gender identity.

“Many of his classmates don’t even know he’s trans. These laws would invade our privacy as he would be forced to start the 5th grade as a gender that no one knows him as," Callahan told a panel of lawmakers. "How do you foresee that first day of school and those conversations with the teachers as the children ask, why is he coming back as a girl?”

Rep. Jennifer Harris (D-Orlando) proposed an amendment that would let parents request teachers use specific pronouns for their children. That amendment failed.

During the meeting members of the public raised concerns that refusing to allow teachers and school employees to recognize and respect the gender identity of their students could lead to an increase in suicide among transgender students. Studies show right now transgender kids are far more likely than their non-transgender peers to attempt suicide.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.