Attempt to Restrict Unofficial Flags Fuels Fight

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Wednesday began moving forward with a proposal that would restrict the types of flags that can be displayed at government buildings and schools, including preventing the display of LGBTQ pride flags.

The bill (HB 901), sponsored by Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, and Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, drew heavy opposition from LGBTQ people, activists and parents and refueled legislative battles that have raged in recent years about LGBTQ-related issues.

Supporters said the bill is aimed at preventing “indoctrination” at places such as schools.

“This is something that literally is bringing us back to the focus of education and not indoctrination,” Rep. Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, said.

But Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami Beach, said the bill “validates hate” and poses constitutional questions.

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“The problem with this bill is, in addition to the constitutional issues, that it fosters the same kind of intolerance that breeds the violence that makes our communities unsafe,” Joseph said. “And how it does that is by, instead of fostering tolerance, we focus on intolerance for culture wars.”

The Republican-controlled House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee voted 9-5 along party lines to approve the bill, which needs to clear the State Affairs Committee before it could go to the full House. A similar Senate bill (SB 1120) has not been heard in committees midway through the second week of the 60-day legislative session.

The House bill does not specifically name flags that would be barred from being displayed at public buildings and schools. But, in part, it would prevent the display of flags that represent a “political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.”

It would not affect flying such things as the U.S. flag, the state flag and the POW-MIA flag.

In addition to pride flags, lawmakers said the bill could prevent display of flags representing such things as the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Supporters said the measure would not prevent people from flying flags at their homes or other private places, just not at government buildings.

“I don’t want the Hamas flag flying in this room,” Fine said, referring to the House committee room. “I don’t want the Black Lives Matter flag flying in this room, and I don’t want the Trump for president flag flying in this room. Those aren’t appropriate. They’re not appropriate in this room, they’re not appropriate in our schools, they’re not appropriate in our government buildings.”

But Rep. Johanna Lopez, D-Orlando, said the bill is “not about indoctrination. It’s about discrimination.”

“I think we should be fostering communities of inclusion, and I think this bill is moving us backwards and not forwards,” Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg, said.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent years have approved a series of controversial measures related to LGBTQ people and issues. For example, they passed bills that seek to prevent instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

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