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House Bill 7/Senate Bill 148: Individual Freedom is bad for schools and workplaces, will deter businesses from moving into the state – and is just poorly written proposed legislation aimed at division over community. The fast-moving proposed legislation imperils anti-discrimination education. Community Tampa Bay envisions a community free from discrimination where all perspectives have a seat at the table to engage in cross-cultural interaction and dialogue.
This proposed legislation threatens the very table and devalues the identities of those who sit at it. HB 7/SB 148: uses the term “Individual Freedom” to limit dialogue that can take place in schools and workplaces. The bill which proponents coined the “Anti-Woke Bill” inherently limits conversations around identity, race, gender and sexual orientation – while initially proposed to limit critical race theory in classrooms. It also aims to tell private businesses and membership organizations what they can and cannot discuss with their employees and members. The bill directs educators and employers not to teach anything that would cause “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress.”
Such vague language cannot be applied or administered with any certainty and simply begs unfettered subjective discretion.
This broad and vague language is both harmful and unconstitutional. Educators simply cannot predict feelings and certain topics cannot be taught honestly without a certain level of these feelings. Decades of Black and Brown students sat in classrooms feelings of discomfort and anguish while incomplete history was taught. With national calls for inclusive history that de-centers whiteness, concerns now arise about classroom discomfort.
It is clear what this is about. Proponents are concerned that learners will feel guilty for racism (and now also their gender). Initially, this was allegedly presented to respond to the question “why should anyone today feel guilty about something that happened hundreds of years ago?” Yet this legislation threatens conversations educators and workplaces can have about incidents that happened not 400 years ago, not 40 years ago, but 40 minutes ago on the bus or in the hall, on the playground or in the breakroom, and in the classroom or on the company retreat.
During a recent training, youth shared that a group of transgender friends had been threatened on the playground with physical violence, and two teenage Latinas shared boys cornered them in the hall and threatened them with sexual violence. This proposed legislation limits how educators and administrators can effectively respond to discriminatory incidences. And youth are talking amongst themselves about race, sex, sexual orientation and gender every single day. Educators are best positioned to facilitate these conversations, ensuring safety and embracing the discomfort.
Businesses too must understand the impact this proposed legislation has on their future opportunity to respond to discriminatory incidents and their efforts to create a culture free from discrimination. It is unclear how diversity, equity and inclusion efforts can be successful if a facilitator must guarantee that every adult does not respond with discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other psychological distress. This undoubtedly will lead to wasteful litigation where courts will be tied up sorting out subjective feelings and emotions. The bill’s newest proposed language would require courts to determine – did the educator tell the learner how to feel or did they just feel that way on their own?
This proposed legislation is aimed at far more than critical race theory or individual freedom. It is a full-on attack of equity work that is happening not only in schools but in private workplaces and membership organizations. Educators and DEI facilitators are better positioned than Legislators to ensure this education is conducted safely, and to support learners’ emotional responses.
Businesses and employers are taking notice of the Florida legislature’s priorities. These attacks are like a bowl of wet spaghetti noodles. Each individual noodle represents an equity premise: critical race theory, sexual orientation, gay, trans-rights, equity, inclusion, social emotional learning – and yes, even – belonging.
All these words have been weaponized by their opponents who throw them against the wall to see which ones will stick and be banned from our schools and workplaces. Their proponents fear racial progress and seek to stymie these conversations. There are tables across Florida where all perspectives are welcome to explore racial and gender progress. Let’s not let legislators kick the legs out from underneath them.
Tammy Briant Spratling is a lawyer, educator, and CEO of Community Tampa Bay. She has taught Law and the Civil Rights Movement at Stetson College of Law and Florida State University Law School.