Some families considering leaving Florida over 'Don't Say Gay' law, survey finds

'Parental Rights In Education' law bans classroom instruction on gender identity, sexual orientation in certain grades
A flag outside the Compass LGBTQ+ Community Center in Lake Worth Beach on Jan. 30, 2023.jpg
Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-30 22:00:25-05

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — A new survey is shedding light on how LGBTQ+ families are handling controversial new legislation in Florida, like the "Parental Rights In Education" law, which critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Research from the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute shows 88% of parents were concerned about the impacts of the law, and almost 20% are even taking steps to move out of Florida.

The survey had a relatively small sample size, only 113 LGBTQ+ parents. But about 56% of them said they were considering leaving the state because of legislation like the "Parental Rights In Education" law.

The Compass LGBTQ+ Community Center in Lake Worth Beach said that seems pretty accurate.


"We work with a lot of LGBTQ families, and we know they are terrified about what is going on in the state and they are considering leaving," said Michael Riordan with the center.

Riordan said the new survey itself was most surprising.

"The fact that there's enough concern from organizations and groups to actually ask LGBTQ families this question shows you all you need to know about what this law is and the impact it's having on Florida," Riordan said.

The controversial law, which was passed last year, bans classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and must be age-appropriate for older students.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community call it discriminatory and said it's creating a chilling effect in schools.

"People are reading it right. Whether or not the letter of the law says one thing, it's the spirit of the law which people are reacting to," Riordan said.

"So with this bill and everything, your family has considered moving?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Cassandra Oetinger-Kenski, a Palm Beach County third grade teacher.

"100%," Oetinger-Kenski replied.

Oetinger-Kenski said the law hasn't changed anything in her classroom, but it's concerning nonetheless.

"My family consists of same-sex partners, so I have my own concerns as a parent for my children, having two moms and being in a classroom where, if that was spoken out loud, how would the teacher receive it?" Oetinger-Kenski said.

Oetinger-Kenski calls Palm Beach County a very inclusive school district, but would like to see the state put its focus on other educational issues.

"It's heartbreaking for me as an educator to be put in the position of walking on eggshells for a student who might come into my room and is, God forbid, different. That's a whole other piece," Oetinger-Kenski said.

"To be singled out like this with this level of hatred is shocking and it's detrimental to everyone in Florida," Riordan said.

Riordan fears what other legislation could be coming from the state this year, but said visibility is most important.

"We're still here, we're still queer, and we're still proud," Riordan said.

WPTV reached out to Gov. Ron DeSantis' office on Monday for a response to the new survey, but has not heard back.