Ethan in Strange World
Ethan in Strange WorldDisney

Florida Is Investigating a Teacher Who Showed Students a Disney Movie With a Gay Character

The incident comes amid the state’s ongoing war with Disney.

This article was originally published by Them.

A Florida teacher who showed her students a Disney movie featuring a gay character is under investigation for “indoctrination.”

Twitter user Carl Zee initially posted about the incident last Thursday, redacting identifying details. 

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Then on Saturday, Jenna Barbee, a fifth grade teacher at Winding Waters K-8 in Brooksville, Florida, which is 45 miles north of Tampa, posted on TikTok about the incident. While supervising students who had finished standardized testing early, Barbee decided to play Strange World. The 2022 movie includes Disney’s first out gay teenager, voiced by Jaboukie Young-White. Since her students were studying plants and ecosystems at the time, Barbee said she thought that Strange World, which follows a family of adventurers who seek out new worlds, would be relevant viewing. 

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Barbee said she had been told by school administrators that fifth grade students needed to have a signed permission slip from a parent in order to watch PG movies. Barbee had collected those slips at the beginning of the year, and had received no objections to specific content from her current students. 

However, Barbee was reported to the Department of Education because one of the students she was supervising at the time, who was not ordinarily in her class, was the daughter of a school board member who “is currently on a rampage to get rid of every form of representation,” according to Barbee. The board member’s recent objections to representation on campus included, Barbee said, a sticker of a black hand intertwined with a white hand whose fingernails were each painted a different color. 

“Is a character in the movie LGBTQ? Absolutely,” Barbee said. “Is that why I showed it? No.” The teacher went on to explain that long before she showed the movie, a lot of fifth-grade students had told her they were “a part of that community.” She emphasized that the “LGBTQ aspect” of Strange World is harmless; Ethan, the character in question, discusses a same-sex crush in a scene that totals just over two minutes, she noted. 

“I also want to bring up the fact that none of my students cared or batted an eye,” Barbee said. “They didn’t even know this was a big deal until the board member and the state made it a big deal. 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?”

Barbee said that an investigator from the Florida Department of Education pulled her students out of class individually to ask them questions about the incident, which she noted did not require parental permission.

“Do you know the trauma that that is going to cause to some of my students?” she said, adding that they are fifth graders who “are just getting comfortable” with her. “This is the public education system where students from all backgrounds, cultures, and religions are welcomed and should be celebrated and represented,” she insisted. 

“I am not and never would indoctrinate anyone to follow my beliefs,” Barbee concluded. “I will, however, always be a safe person to come to that spreads the message of kindness, positivity, and compassion for everyone. That is the key to the safety for our children.”

After the incident, the school district issued an apologetic letter to parents, as CNN reported. “Yesterday, the Disney movie Strange World was shown in your child’s classroom,” the letter read. “While not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involves a male character having and expressing feelings for another male character. In the future, this movie will not be shown.”

The incident comes amid Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ ongoing war against Disney, and the state’s recent expansion of its “Don’t Say Gay” law to cover all public classrooms K-12. Although the letter Barbee received did not cite the law specifically, Florida was the first in the nation to pass such a law, which initially banned LGBTQ+ content from being discussed in kindergarten through third grade classrooms before being expanded earlier this year. Disney recently sued Florida, alleging that the state was unconstitutionally retaliating against its freedom of speech to condemn the law.