Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a much-debated bill into law that bars classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grades.
The “Parental Rights in Education” bill prohibits teacher-initiated discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to third grade, and demands that schools notify parents when there are changes to the types of support services being offered to their children. Schools found in violation of the act can be sued by parents.
Supporters claims such legislation is necessary to prevent schools from exposing children to concepts they are too young to intellectually grasp, or — for those children who may be LGBTQ — condoning a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation without first informing their parents.
They also accuse their detractors of misrepresenting the bill, arguing that it does not explicitly ban the word “gay” in school settings or ban casual, student-led discussions, or inquiries of topics related to LGBTQ identity in classrooms.
Critics, who dubbed the bill the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, say that, regardless of the bill’s actual wording, the measure will only serve to intimidate teachers and students. They argue that individual teachers, wary of running afoul of the law, will proactively censor students who raise LGBTQ-related topics in schools, whether that’s in secondary classroom discussions or in instances where students wish to start an after-school club (commonly known as a “Gay-Straight Alliance,” a “Gender & Sexuality Alliance,” or a “GSA”) to support LGBTQ students.
Critics also claim that the bill supporters’ true intentions were revealed when they rejected amendments, introduced by Democrats in the Florida Legislature, that would have prohibited all sexually-related or “age-inappropriate” topics from being broached in primary grade classrooms. But Republicans rejected the amendment, choosing to ban only LGBTQ-specific content.
LGBTQ advocates also argue that, in enforcing the bill, teachers will send an implicit message to LGBTQ-identifying students that they have no supportive allies and should closet themselves, which may lead some youth to contemplate suicide due to feelings of isolation or depression.
DeSantis slammed LGBTQ advocates and Hollywood elites (who mocked the bill and Florida at the most recent Academy Awards on Sunday) for attacking him.
“If the people who held up degenerates like Harvey Weinstein as exemplars and as heroes…. if those are the types of people that are opposing us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor,” he said, according to Fox News. “They don’t want to admit that they support a lot of the things that we’re providing protections against.
“For example, they support sexualizing kids in kindergarten. They support injecting woke gender ideology into second-grade classrooms.… And so what they’re doing with these slogans and these narratives is they are trying to camouflage their true intentions.”
During a press conference ahead of signing the law, DeSantis said that providing information to young children saying “they can be whatever they want to be” in terms of gender was “inappropriate.”
The Walt Disney Company, which came under fierce criticism from its own employees after failing to take a tougher stance opposing the bill, issued a statement criticizing the bill’s passage.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the statement read. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in a statement issued before the bill signing that the governor is unfazed by threats of a possible boycott of the state over the bill.
“Many of the tourists in Florida have visited us from states with mandates and restrictions, to enjoy the freedoms and sense of normalcy that Florida has become renowned for, under Gov. DeSantis’ leadership,” she wrote. “Business is thriving here as well, because the governor has kept our state open, and our tax burden remains the lowest in the country.
“These are things that everyone can appreciate, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Therefore, we are not concerned about boycotts or other economic harm to Florida as a result of any legislation. But even if we were: no amount of money would convince Governor DeSantis to change his position. He will always stand for parental rights and protecting children.”
The Trevor Project, the world’s top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, blasted the bill’s passage and claimed that the bill, when actually being enforced, could potentially lead to excising LGBTQ figures from curriculums or whitewashing their identities, negatively impacting LGBTQ youth in the process.
“LGBTQ youth in Florida deserve better,” Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “They deserve to see their history, their families, and themselves reflected in the classroom. While I am saddened to see this harmful bill signed into law, I am inspired by the outpouring of support for LGBTQ students we have seen from parents, teachers, celebrities, and their peers. Social support is vital for suicide prevention, and I want to remind LGBTQ youth in Florida and across the country that you are not alone.”
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