Florida Teacher Under Investigation for Showing Students a Disney Movie with Gay Character

Jenna Barbee
Jenna Barbee (left) and a still from the 2022 movie "Strange World" shows Disney's first openly gay character. TikTok/YouTube

A Florida fifth-grade teacher says she is under investigation by the state Department of Education for "inappropriate conduct" after showing her fifth-grade class Disney's 2022 animated movie Strange World.

The decision to show the film as a "brain break" followed a rigorous morning of standardized testing. The movie features an openly gay character named Ethan and explores a romantic side plot between Ethan and his crush, Diazo.

Barbee Reported by School Board Member, Whose Daughter was in the Class

Jenna Barbee took to TikTok to defend her choice, stating that she selected the film because it aligned with the class's curriculum, which currently focuses on ecosystems. While she emphasized that the LGBTQ+ element was not the primary reason for showing the movie, she described it as "harmless."

According to Barbee, she was reported to the state by a school board member who has been actively opposing any form of representation in schools. Notably, the board member's daughter was present in the classroom during the screening of Strange World.

Barbee's friend, Carl Zee, shared a tweet on May 11 displaying a letter from the Florida Department for Education, indicating that the teacher is under investigation for "inappropriate conduct."

The letter instructed potential witnesses or individuals possessing relevant documents to submit them to the designated office within two weeks.

Barbee expressed her students' surprise in a TikTok on May 13, upon realizing the significance attached to the incident.

"They didn't even know this was a big deal until the board member and the state made it a big deal," she stated in her 6-minute video.

She stated that she had permission slips for PG movies from Disney signed by each of the student's parents.

Questioning the motive behind the investigation, Barbee raised concerns about the message it conveys to the students. "They're using it against me, saying they're 'protecting the children' and it's for their safety. But what is this actually showing them?" she pondered.

Barbee further claimed that the investigation is proving to be more "traumatizing" for the youngsters than the film itself.

"But the minor representations, that have nothing to do with the movie, are such a big deal that now admin in is in their room, pulling their teacher out, calling the students one by one down to the office to interrogate them in the middle of my lessons," she said.

Following the circulation of Barbee's video (watch the full video here) and the letter on Twitter, numerous individuals have called on Disney to support the teacher by providing financial or legal assistance.

DeSantis' Crackdown on LGBTQ+ Community

This investigation occurs amidst Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' efforts to crackdown on LGBTQ+ issues, stemming from his controversial Parental Rights in Education law, which critics dub as 'Don't Say Gay.'

The law prohibits classroom discussions related to gender and sexuality and has been expanded to encompass all grades in the state. Activists have criticized the legislation for its vagueness, suggesting that virtually anything could be perceived as a breach, potentially causing teachers to censor themselves and effectively suppress important conversations.

Several additional laws have been introduced, such as restrictions on abortion, several book bans, enabling medical discrimination, and banning discussions on gender identity.

This article was first published on May 15, 2023