Discrimination is a black and white issue when it comes to anti-LGBTQ schools and state vouchers | Editorial
By Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board
Feb 07, 2020 | 12:05 PM
The scene earlier this week was this: A diverse group of politicians and pastors — black, white and Hispanic — gathered at the state Capitol. They were worried about minority and low-income students losing access to private schools if companies withhold their support for tax-credit scholarships.
The disconnect at the rally was this: No one seemed worried about those schools discriminating against the LGBTQ community, which is the reason several companies have stopped supporting the scholarship program.
We can understand why someone who supports the scholarship program would want to protect its future. We cannot understand why they’re not equally concerned about ending the remnants of state-sanctioned discrimination.
Backers of Florida's largest school voucher program Tuesday to denounce efforts to convince corporations to halt donations. Two Orlando-based lawmakers have been urging corporations not to support program because some scholarships go to private schools with written anti-LGBTQ policies.
And it’s wrong now when kids who happen to be gay — or even straight kids with gay parents — can be turned away from private schools that accept state-supported scholarships.
That’s not justice. That’s not equality. That’s not right.
The central problem is treating this issue as a binary choice: You either support access to private schools or you support getting rid of discrimination against LGBTQ kids in private schools.
It’s a false choice. You can do both. If you don’t like companies withholding their support for private schools, join with them in pressuring the Legislature to end LGBTQ discrimination in Florida, or at least in schools that accept state assistance.
An easy fix has been proposed. Bills pending in the state House and Senate would add a non-discrimination clause to the state’s school-choice scholarship law. It would apply only to private schools that choose to participate in the state program.
Any private school would still be allowed to teach or preach any values it sees fit. What it would not allow them to do is deny admission to a child with a publicly funded voucher because of who they are.
Instead, some supporters of private-school scholarships — vouchers — have made a bargain: Ignore this particular form of discrimination in order to keep the money flowing into private schools, some of which rely solely on scholarships. (Under that program, companies can divert what they owe in corporate taxes to private-scholarships.)
The genesis of this dispute was an Orlando Sentinel article that found 156 private, voucher-supported schools held anti-gay views and that 83 of those explicitly stated in their policies that gay kids and gay parents weren’t welcome.
Florida scholarships, or school vouchers, last year helped more than 20,000 students attend private schools that have anti-gay policies, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found. At least 156 private schools that take state scholarships espouse anti-gay views.
Those policies are underpinned by the biblical belief that those kids and parents are committing a sin. But the Bible names many sins. Divorce is condemned several times in the Gospels. But we have little doubt that divorced parents send their children to some of the same schools that exclude kids because their parents are gay.
So the LGBTQ community stands almost alone. It’s not getting support from groups that know a thing or two about discrimination and it’s getting no sympathy from political leaders who make things happen — or not happen.
House Speaker Jose Oliva says he’s worried about lawsuits if Florida tries to protect LGBTQ interests. Senate Education Committee Chair Manny Diaz says he doesn’t want to meddle. Orlando Rep. Bruce Antone, the chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, told the Tampa Bay Times the caucus won’t take up the issue because "because it would get too ‘ugly.’” How brave of them all.
The state Department of Education weighed in this week with a shoulder shrug, saying it hasn’t gotten any complaints about gay kids being mistreated or turned away. One possible reason for that: If a private school’s policy says your kid isn’t welcome — and the state allows that discrimination — what’s the point of complaining to a bureaucracy that can’t do anything about it and probably doesn’t care in the first place?
Even Fifth Third Bank, one of the handful of scholarship-program contributors that stood up for LGBTQ rights by withholding donations, has caved and decided to resume its contributions.
Fights against discrimination are never easy. They’re long, sometimes painful slogs.
This is one of those. It’ll take courage, persistence and someday, we hope, the assistance of people who have experience in such struggles.
Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Shannon Green, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send your emails to [email protected]