Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed legislation known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law despite nationwide outrage, largely forbidding instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in most elementary school classrooms.
The legislation, which allows parents to sue school districts in order to enforce it, mandates that any classroom lessons “by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Opponents of the legislation ― who gave the bill the “Don’t Say Gay” moniker ― have slammed it as hateful and discriminatory and have vowed to fight it in court.
“We will not sit by and allow the governor’s office to call us pedophiles,” Equality Florida said in a statement when the legislation passed out of the state Senate. “We will not allow this bill to harm LGBTQ Floridians. We will not permit any school to enforce this in a way that endangers the safety of children. We stand ready to fight for Floridians in court and hold lawmakers who supported this bill accountable at the ballot box.”
Shortly before the legislation, which is officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, passed the Senate, DeSantis’ spokesperson made a series of comments on Twitter saying the bill’s opponents supported sexually grooming underage students.
“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” his spokesperson Christina Pushaw wrote. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
She doubled down on her claims in a statement to Florida Politics, saying: “Pedophiles groom kids by talking to them about sex.”
President Joe Biden has called the legislation a “hateful bill.”
Florida lawmakers and others who’ve objected to the bill have questioned how far it would reach, asking if it would ban teachers from reading books with LGBTQ characters or teaching students about historical figures from the LGBTQ community. It’s not clear from the bill’s vague text which types of conversations about gender and sexual orientation would be considered “age appropriate,” but the risk of lawsuits from parents may force educators to exercise extreme caution around the issue.
LGBTQ advocates say the legislation will cut off a vital lifeline for queer and questioning students who may rely on teachers for a safe space to discuss their identities.
“There are things kids just don’t want to tell their parents about or can’t ― my sexual orientation was definitely that for me,” Janelle Perez, a business owner who’s running for a Florida state Senate seat, told HuffPost in February. “My teacher provided me with a type of refuge that, at the time, I couldn’t get at home.”