Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a large print of a children’s book about a transgender kid on March 28, 2022 Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel
As he’d promised, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what opponents call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law Monday, claiming it will protect a parent’s right to have a say in what children are taught and how they are treated in Florida public schools.
The legislation has drawn national condemnation, and the U.S. Department of Education warned that it will be watching for potential infringement of civil rights.
At issue is whether the legislation, HB 1557, unfairly targets LGBTQ students or teachers or even disallows mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in the name of allowing parents to dictate the education and upbringing of their children.
Following Monday’s bill-signing, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona released the following statement:
“By signing this bill, Gov. DeSantis has chosen to target some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families, all while under the guise of ‘parents’ rights.’ Make no mistake: This is a part of a disturbing and dangerous trend across the country of legislation targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals.”
(LGBQTI+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, transgender, intersex, and other “non-straight” orientations.)
“This comes at a time when we know lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students are three to four times more likely than non-LGBTQI+ students to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even self harm — not because of who they are but because of the hostility directed at them,” Cardona continued.
“And we will be monitoring this law upon implementation to evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law.”
The statement notes that students who feel they are experiencing discrimination can file a complaint with the agency’s Office for Civil Rights.
HB 1557 allows parents to sue if a school district withholds information about their child’s well-being or if their child is exposed to classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.” The bill singles out kids in kindergarten through third grade, but could capture instruction and counseling through high school.
While the official title of the legislation is “Parental Rights in Education,” opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because of what they fear will prove its chilling effect.
Not ‘age appropriate’
Supporters of the bill argue that doesn’t directly target LGBTQ people, noting that the text does not mention the word ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’ and that certain conversations are best had at home.
The bill signing occurred at Classical Preparatory School in Pasco County, where DeSantis was flanked by young charter school students and holding signs reading, “Protect Children Support Parents.”
He highlighted materials that were inclusive of LGBTQ matters, repeatedly saying they were “not appropriate” for young kids.
This includes a enlarged printing of “The Genderbread Man,” an infographic designed to simplify concepts such as gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and sexual orientation.
“This is trying to sew doubt in kids about their gender identity,” DeSantis said. “It’s trying to say that, you know, they can be whatever they want to be. This is inappropriate for kindergarteners, for first graders, for second graders.”
DeSantis deployed another prop at the ceremony — this time showcasing a page from children’s book, “Call Me Max” by Kyle Lukoff.
The page reads:
“When I was born, mom and dad said, ‘It’s a girl!’ When I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl. Kind of. But because I am transgender, I wanted to see a boy.”
“So, this is something you’re putting into classroom curriculum for 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-old kids,” DeSantis told the audience. “And again, that is not something that is appropriate for any place, but certainly in the state of Florida. And shouldn’t parents know if that is something that is in the curriculum?”
Participants in the event, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, and the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation, largely shot back at news coverage claiming that the legislation will chill classroom discussions of LGBTQ people and students.
DeSantis insisted those who disagree with the legislation either haven’t read it or have a secret agenda.
“It’s true, many of the people helped to whip this up never actually read the bill. They haven’t taken the time to do that, they would rather just further narratives,” he said.
“But, I must tell you, these leftist politicians, corporate media outlets, some of these activist groups, they actually have read the bill, and they’re sloganeering because they don’t want to admit that they support a lot of things that we’re providing protections against,” he continued.
“For example, they support sexualizing kids in kindergarten. They support injecting ‘woke gender ideology’ into second grade classrooms. They support enabling schools to, quote ‘transition,’ students to a, quote, ‘different gender,’ without the knowledge of the parent, much less without the parent’s consent.
“So what they’re doing with these slogans and these narratives, they’re trying to camouflage their true intentions.”
While DeSantis’s remarks focused on young elementary kids, the legislation could affect older grades, too.
HB 1557 reads: “Classroom instruction 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” according to state standards.
State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County and is a part of the LGBTQ community, co-authored an opinion piece for the Washington Post to highlight other anti-LGBTQ efforts previously proposed in Florida in the name of protecting children.
Rumors circulated about a potential bill-signing ceremony for HB 1557 long before the official press conference was announced.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay House member who has been a vocal opponent of HB 1557, tweeted at 11:11 PM Sunday evening that DeSantis was expected to sign the bill the following day.
“It will be an anti-LGBTQ spectacle full of lies + dangerous rhetoric,” he tweeted, issuing a call-to-action for donations towards LGBTQ advocacy groups.
One of which was Equality Florida, which tweeted Monday 10:30 AM:
“Multiple, unconfirmed reports that @GovRonDeSantisis signing #DontSayGay bill today at a charter school, Classical Preparatory in Spring Hill. Has DeSantis chosen a location exempt from this bill while keeping the signing quiet to avoid student counter-protests?”
The governor’s office released details about the place and time about an hour and a half before the event started — a rather short turn-around compared to other press conference notices.
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