Controversy Surrounds Florida Teacher Over Disney Film Amid “Don’t Say Gay” Legislation

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Jenna Barbee, a Florida fifth-grade teacher, is under investigation by the state's Department of Education for showing her students the Disney film "Strange World," which includes an openly gay character.
Barbee defended her choice, stating that the film was relevant to their current unit of study and conveyed important life lessons such as acceptance and kindness.
The incident occurred amidst controversy surrounding Florida's "Don't Say Gay" legislation, which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Violating teachers could face disciplinary action.
Disney initially refrained from commenting on the bill but later opposed it publicly and pledged a $5 million donation to LGBTQ+ rights organizations.
The Human Rights Organization (HRC) declined Disney's donation, calling for more tangible commitment against harmful laws like the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
The bill has passed the Florida House and Senate and awaits Governor Ron DeSantis's approval. Similar bills have emerged in other parts of the United States.
The controversy has sparked discussions about the potential harm to LGBTQ+ students and has led to scrutiny of Disney's political contributions.
Celebrities, public figures, and former Disney CEO Bob Iger have voiced opposition to the bill, contributing to the ongoing debate surrounding its impact on Florida's education system and the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Jenna Barbee, a fifth-grade teacher from Florida, is currently facing an investigation by the state’s Department of Education due to her decision to show her students the animated Disney film, “Strange World.”

The film, known for its inclusion of an openly gay character, was chosen by Barbee for its relevance to their current unit of study—earth science and ecosystems.

Barbee defended her choice, explaining that the movie was a fitting way to demonstrate the learning standards while also conveying significant life lessons such as acceptance, kindness, pursuing dreams, and effective communication.

Barbee clarified that the character’s LGBTQ+ status was not her primary reason for selecting the film.

She highlighted that several of her students had expressed their own affiliation with the LGBTQ+ community and she believes in supporting and accepting her students for who they are.

At the start of the academic year, permission slips for such content were sent to parents, returned with no particular objections.

Despite these precautions, Barbee faced backlash after the film’s showing.

A parent, who is also a member of the Hernando County School District Board, reported her to the Department of Education.

The school district subsequently issued a statement to parents, indicating that while the movie’s LGBTQ+ content was not the central plot, the film would not be shown in the future, and the situation is being reviewed for potential further action.

Chapek announced that Disney had signed a statement opposing such legislative efforts across the country, and pledged a $5 million donation to the Human Rights Organization (HRC) and other groups working to safeguard LGBTQ+ rights.

“Don’t Say Gay” Legislation and the Disney Response

This incident comes amid ongoing controversy surrounding Florida’s contentious “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, publicly opposed by Disney.

This law, perceived by critics as an attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people and history from schools, stipulates that discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited in schools from kindergarten through high school.

Violating teachers could face suspension or revocation of their teaching license.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek initially stated that the company would not publicly comment on the bill but later reversed course.

Chapek announced that Disney had signed a statement opposing such legislative efforts across the country, and pledged a $5 million donation to the Human Rights Organization (HRC) and other groups working to safeguard LGBTQ+ rights.

However, the HRC declined to accept the donation until Disney demonstrates more tangible commitment against harmful laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The Bill’s Impact and Future Implications

The bill, formally known as House Bill 1557 or the Parental Rights in Education bill, has already passed the Florida House and Senate, and only requires Governor Ron DeSantis’s approval to become law.

It has led to the creation of similar bills in other parts of the United States, including Georgia. The bill has been widely criticized for potentially alienating LGBTQ+ students and promoting harmful stereotypes.

Disney, which operates Disney World in Florida, has faced significant backlash for its contributions to politicians supporting the bill.

The company has since reiterated its commitment to inclusivity and respect for all.

Chapek also stated that Disney will reassess its advocacy efforts, including political donations in Florida and beyond, promising to support the community in a more proactive manner.

As the controversy continues, celebrities, public figures, and even former Disney CEO Bob Iger have spoken out against the bill, adding to the widespread sentiment that this contentious legislation could potentially harm vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth.

The impact of these developments on the state’s education system and the broader community continues to be a topic of heated debate.

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