Florida follows Texas in stripping resources for LGBTQ youth from government website

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Resources for educators who want to help LGBTQ youth feel safe in schools have been removed from the Florida Department of Education's website.

A state agency in Florida has taken down content from a website that provided anti-bullying resources, including those specifically meant to help LGBTQ youth. This action comes just three months after a Texas agency removed information for LGBTQ youth from its websites following criticism from a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

The Florida Department of Education's website for the Office of Safe Schools, which was created to ensure that schools are following proper safety protocols and to provide guidance on responding to mass shootings, featured content on bullying that provided information for teachers and parents on how to create safe school environments for students. It included links to a federal government website on data about bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth and advice on how to make schools more welcoming for LGBTQ students, according to Florida Politics, which published a story on its removal on Dec. 6.

That website also linked to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site that provides information on organizations that advocate against the bullying of LGBTQ youth and collect data on their experiences in schools, such as The Trevor Project and GLSEN, formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network.

The anti-bullying content was removed after a conservative outlet, the Florida Capital Star, asked for comment from the department about links to resources for LGBTQ students. The agency told the publication that it was reviewing the content but didn't provide a timeline for when the review would be completed, according to the outlet's Dec. 3 article.

Florida passed legislation this year, which has been signed into law by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, that has concerned LGBTQ groups. In June, DeSantis signed a bill that would prohibit transgender athletes from playing on the team of their gender, making it the first anti-LGBTQ bill to be enacted in the state in decades, according to Equality Florida.

On June 29, DeSantis signed legislation requiring school districts to develop policies to promote parental involvement, which states that "important information relating to a minor child should not be withheld, either inadvertently or purposefully, from his or her parent, including information relating to the minor child's health, well-being, and education, while the minor child is in the custody of the school district."

The language about disclosure of information to families concerned LGBTQ groups because some parents and guardians are not supportive of their LGBTQ children, which could affect those students' safety at home. Equality Florida told Florida Politics that it advocates for the department to bring back these resources to its websites and said, "Vulnerable youth deserve better than a DeSantis Administration intent on putting them in harm's way in order to score cheap political points."

A Texas agency also removed information for LGBTQ youth from its webpages. On Aug. 31, Don Huffines, a Republican running for governor, criticized Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott for a Department of Family and Protective Services webpage that he said is advocating for "transgender ideology." The content Huffines referred to was gone in only a matter of hours, according to the Houston Chronicle, which reported on the removal of the information in October.

The Texas agency's webpages provided a link to a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth and information to help them find housing and education following their time in foster care. Through a public records request, the outlet found that workers at the agency discussed Huffines' remarks in emails before taking down the content. The department told the American Independent Foundation in October that the review was still in process.

Huffines has repeatedly challenged Abbott in the past few months over who is doing more to fight transgender equality. Subsequently, Abbott has continued attacks on LGBTQ rights, according to experts.

Abbott has instructed the same state agency to look into whether gender-affirming surgery is child abuse, even though health care experts say that such surgeries are rare for minors, and told state officials to take measures to remove books from schools that he considers inappropriate for students,  mentioning two books that center LGBTQ people and queer relationships.

Texas has also banned transgender athletes from playing on the sports team that corresponds to their gender. The governor repeatedly pushed for the legislation this year.

The removal of supportive information for LGBTQ youth from state government websites comes after GOP state lawmakers introduced hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, some of which have already been enacted. Many of the bills focus on LGBTQ youth, particularly transgender youth. Nine states enacted transgender sports bans. Montana and Tennessee lawmakers passed bills that discourage lessons about LGBTQ people in school, which have been signed into law by those states' Republican governors.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.