Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs 'Don't Say Gay' bill into law, lashes out at 'fake narratives'
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday new restrictions on discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida schools, derided by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The legislation was ridiculed by hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall during their opening comments at Sunday night’s 94th Academy Awards.
But DeSantis defended the prohibition Monday as helping parents control their children’s education. The legislation is formally titled Parental Rights in Education.
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said, in signing the legislation at Classical Preparatory School, where he was joined by several parents, students and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
DeSantis held up posters labeled “Found in Florida,” of transgender educational material that he said had been used in several school districts.
DeSantis accuses left, Hollywood of 'fake narratives'
The governor said that parents don’t want their children exposed to such information and blamed “sloganeering and fake narratives by leftist politicians, by activists and corporate media,” for stirring controversy over the bill.
“They don’t want to admit, they support a lot of the things that we’re providing protections against,” DeSantis said.
He also targeted Hollywood’s opposition.
“If the people who held Harvey Weinstein up oppose us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor. I’m not backing down,” DeSantis said, citing the Hollywood director accused of serial sexual assault.
The measure bans classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
It also prohibits such teaching in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students, which potentially broadens the ban on discussions to all grade levels.
Parents can sue school districts over alleged violations.
SIMILAR BILLS TO COME? Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill sparked national backlash. But more legislation is brewing.
Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has promised to challenge the measure in court.
“At every turn, the Florida Legislature rejected reasonable amendments to this legislation and refused to mitigate its harm,” the organization earlier said in a statement.
The legislation was approved by the state House and Senate voting largely along party lines. Democrats blasted the ban as the latest round in a culture war that also saw Florida’s Republican-ruled Legislature approve new limits on the discussion of race in schools and workplaces and expanding the ability of critics to call for the removal of books they find objectionable on school library shelves.
The already emotionally-charged clash over the sexual orientation and gender identity measure became even more heated when shortly before the bill’s final passage in the Senate, Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, in a tweet likened opponents to the legislation to pedophiles and said the measure would be aptly titled the “anti-grooming” bill.
While many opponents said the legislation targeted LGBTQ youth and also put teachers in situations where they could be disciplined for any perceived missteps, others condemned the ban for what they called its unconstitutional vagueness.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, will likely face legal challenges on free speech grounds.
Sexual orientation and gender identity is not taught in Florida grades K-3. But such topics could come up for discussion in some capacity — such as talk of a child’s home life or family makeup — even in these lower grades.
Little guidance for schools
But the new law doesn’t require the Florida Education Department to update its standards for guidance in complying with the ban until 2023. That means that even if state officials eventually create standards explaining to teachers and school administrators how they can respond to the new law, it means that Florida classrooms will be improvising their handling of the matter for an entire school year.
Teachers are expected to feel they’ll have to self-censor. And school districts are wary of the cost of lawsuits if anyone on their staffs are accused of straying from the new law by a parent.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is among three prominent Democrats challenging DeSantis for governor this year, cited what he saw as the hypocrisy of his rival.
“Gov. DeSantis loves to boast that he’s made Florida the ‘freest state in America,’ yet today he will sign a heinous, hateful piece of legislation that silences teachers in their own classrooms and effectively harms millions of LGBTQ+ students, with nowhere else to turn for help,” Crist said. “Under this governor, Florida is not free if you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Follow John Kennedy, a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau on Twitter at: @JKennedyReport