This week in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his hateful and mislabeled Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as “Don’t Say Gay/Don’t Say Trans,” into law. AFT member and Manatee County kindergarten teacher Cory Bernaert felt its real-world effects even before the bill was signed.
As you well know, building relationships with our students is a vital part of our work. To build those relationships, we often talk about our lives and our shared experiences―spouses, kids, pets, what we did over the holidays and so on. This bill makes it nearly impossible for LGBTQIA+ educators and students alike to share and be who they are in their workplaces and schools. Cory is happily partnered, but if students ask what he did on the weekend, he can’t say he and his partner went paddleboarding. He can’t even explain what the word partner means. He can’t answer any questions about himself. His students who have LGBTQIA+ parents aren’t able to share their home life with their peers and their teacher. The safe and welcoming environment Cory has cultivated in his classroom has been put significantly at risk.
Like any educator, or American for that matter, has the right, Cory voiced his concerns. He spoke out eloquently against how this harmful legislation will impact his ability to teach and his students’ ability to learn. He was met almost immediately with abuse from some people on the right wing, who are trying to paint him as some monster. Fox News even included him by name in a segment attacking gay teachers. Anyone who knows Cory knows he is a gifted, wonderful teacher and human being.
Why are his detractors doing this? The same reason as DeSantis. They think fearmongering helps them politically. Cory is just one of many Floridians who have experienced these kinds of attacks since the bill has been put into effect. This abuse and bullying is hateful and threatens the safety and well-being of educators like Cory.
Educators are trusted as professionals who should be able to focus on teaching and creating an environment where all students feel safe to learn, thrive and recover from the disruptions of the pandemic. And rather than undermining LGBTQIA+ educators, politicians should be working to make sure our public schools are provided with the resources and supports they need, from academics to mental health services.
Parents and educators agree: We will not stand for this kind of hate and discrimination. That is why, in partnership with PFLAG, the AFT has started a petition to voice our strong opposition to DeSantis’ harmful bill that will affect one of the most important parts of teaching: the link between teachers and students. That is unacceptable, and we will continue to fight against it.
Let’s show them that people across the country―whether parents, educators, healthcare workers or allies―support all families and all teachers, including LGBTQIA+ teachers. Let’s make sure every LGBTQIA+ educator and student in Florida hears us today.
Solidarity is an action word. This is our moment to stand with Cory and every LGBTQIA+ educator in Florida.