Florida GOP lawmakers seek to ban rainbow flags in schools, saying they’re bad for students

Jan 17, 2024, 3:53 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A bill advanced by Florida Republicans on Wednesday would ban teachers and other government employees from displaying a rainbow flag — even wearing one as a lapel pin for a day — but they could hang the full-size flag of any “recognized nation” as long as they want, according to the bill’s sponsor.

Flag displays that depict a “racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint” would be banned from any state or local government building, including public schools and universities, under the bill authored by GOP Rep. David Borrero.

Opponents say the bill is inspired by hate. Borrero said it protects children and it would ban even lapel pins representing the flags of the LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter movements.

“Public classrooms should not be the place where our kids go to be radicalized and evangelized into accepting these partisan, radical ideologies,” Borrero said. “It’s wholly inappropriate to be putting those types of flags in front of public school students and in government buildings.”

Asked about other flags, Borrero said those of sovereign states recognized by the U.S., such as Israel, could be displayed in a classroom. Because the U.S. doesn’t recognize Palestine as a nation, this would rule out the Palestinian flag.

The ban wouldn’t apply to students, or to government employees when they’re not at work or in public buildings, Borrero said. But it would extend to lawmakers’ offices, and at least some Democrats said they’ll break the law if the bill is ever signed by DeSantis.

“Are we in Russia? Are we in Cuba? That’s authoritarianism. That’s fascism at it’s best,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black and gay and has a “Pride at the Capitol” poster with rainbow colors in his public lobby, along with other pride symbols.

“How I was raised, the rainbow meant hope. … I can promise you it wasn’t that that made me gay,” Jones added. “I’m not taking a damn thing down. I want everybody to see it.”

Florida lawmakers have already passed several anti-LGBTQ+ laws while Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis runs for president. DeSantis has signed bans against teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. He’s banned transgender health care for minors and created new hurdles for transgender adults, and made it easier for parents to get books with LGBTQ+ themes removed from schools.

This bill advanced with a party-line 9-5 vote by the House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee faces an uncertain path, even with Republican supermajorities in the Legislature. It has one more House committee stop before being considered by the full chamber. A companion Senate bill has been referred to three committees and hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.

DeSantis’ office didn’t respond to an email asking if he supports the legislation.

Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner, who is Black and lesbian, spoke with frustration that anti-LGBTQ+ bills keep coming up in the Florida Legislature, ignoring more pressing needs such as access to affordable housing and property insurance.

“Once again we’re focusing on things nobody has asked us to focus on,” said Rayner, sitting in her office near a stack of “Protect LGBTQ+ Students” flyers printed over rainbow colors. “I have a Black Voters Matter sign outside of my office. It will remain outside my office regardless of what bill they pass because there’s a thing called the First Amendment.”

Borrero’s bill would also apply to local governments such as the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Wilton Manors, a gay-friendly town of 11,000 where Pride flags fly almost everywhere, including City Hall during Pride Month. A bridge leading into town is framed by rainbow-colored barriers and a Pride flag and a trans pride flag fly year-round above a small park across the street from City Hall.

Robert Boo, CEO of the town’s Pride Center, said DeSantis and the bill’s backers hope to “erase the LGBTQ community” and throw “red meat” to their political supporters while ignoring complicated issues plaguing the state.

“Wilton Manors is the second-gayest city in the country. It is important for Wilton Manors to be able to raise the flags that represent the community’s members,” Boo said. “This may not pertain to middle Florida and they may not want to do that, but I think municipalities should have the ability and freedom to put up the flags that best represent their constituents.”


Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Wilton Manors contributed to this report.

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Florida GOP lawmakers seek to ban rainbow flags in schools, saying they’re bad for students