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Coco Gauff criticizes Florida bill banning LGBTQ+ talk in classrooms

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Coco Gauff is speaking out against a bill in her home state of Florida that would prohibit the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.

The 17-year-old tennis star spoke with reporters on Wednesday ahead of her first match at Indian Wells on Friday, where she is the 16th seed.

“I’m against it,” Gauff said. “I think these conversations are important, and for me, who has friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk about your identity. I feel that’s something that is normal.”

The Republican-backed legislation, which has been called the “Don’t say gay” bill, has stirred national discussion and controversy in a debate that has grown increasingly partisan over what and how schools should teach children in regards to race and gender.

Formally, it’s called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill and prohibits “classroom teaching in public schools on sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade (ages 5-9). Additionally, teaching “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” is not allowed. Parents can henceforth sue school districts for alleged violations.

“Every [LGBTQ+] person I’ve known has known that they were part of that community since they were young,” Gauff continued. “I think it’s important that they have those conversations in school, because that is supposed to be a safe space to talk about everything.”

The bill was passed by the state House last month largely along party lines and will now be sent to the Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has previously expressed his support. If signed by DeSantis, it would go into effect July 1.

Democrats have said that the policies will bring harm to the LGBTQ+ community. On Monday, Democratic state senator Shevrin Jones, the first openly gay Florida state senator, urged the narrowing of the bill’s language to say that the instruction should not be “intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Students across Florida have been staging walkouts in protest against the bill.

Gauff added that she sees how the Florida bill parallels the struggle for racial justice, another issue she has been outspoken about.

“I think it was in 2019 or 2020 when I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement — I said it was important to have those conversations,” Gauff said. “Same stance on this. I think it’s important to have those tough conversations, and from the people that I spoke to who are part of the community, it definitely makes a difference when you don’t have to hide who you are.”