‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill signing inspires protests from LGBTQ people, allies

By: - March 28, 2022 5:25 pm

LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers speak out against HB 1557. March 7, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

In signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis prompted outrage from critics across the nation and in Florida over the potential threat to the LGBTQ community.

He also drew support from Republicans who argued that parental rights should be at the forefront of state education policy.

The new law, HB 1557, officially entitled “Parental Rights in Education,” prohibits discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public classrooms in kindergarten through third grade and only when age-appropriate in higher grades.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried took to Twitter to denounce the bill and DeSantis for signing it, writing: “Ron DeSantis is using the pain of LGBTQ+ children to achieve his political ambitions. We’re not going to let him get away with it.”

Fried, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year, also addressed LGBTQ kids: “I stand with you, and I see you. When I’m governor, my top priority will be to make sure you are protected, not attacked.”

Bill sponsor State Rep. Joe Harding, who represents Levy and part of Marion counties, responded via Twitter: “To the parents of Florida: I stand with you and I see you. I’m sorry that there are people like below [Fried] that want to take away your rights, sexualize your 6-year-olds, and lie to you.”

The Walt Disney Co., which initially declined to comment on the pending legislation, said in a written statement Monday that it “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.”

“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the Legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” the statement reads.

Here are additional comments, both pro and con:

State Rep. Michele Rayner, a Democrat representing parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties, via Twitter:

“Not only is this part of an onslaught on LGBTQ rights but it is part of the ongoing smear campaign against our public schools. Our public officials should be working on behalf of ALL Floridians and not a select group of parents who vote in their favor.”

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat representing part of Orange County, via Twitter:

“I’m not saying #DeSantis is a homophobe — I’m simply saying the homophobes think he’s a homophobe. And he wants their vote … not just in FL, but across the country in a GOP presidential primary. That’s why he signed #DontSayGay. Not to help Floridians, but to help himself.”

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, via Twitter:

“Don’t Say Gay bill that was just signed by @GovRonDeSantis is just another stain on FL history. The party of ‘less government’ is becoming the party of authoritarianism & censorship. To every LGBTQ child, parent, and ally — we see you, we love you, and the fight has just begun.”

Rayner, Smith, and Jones all are openly LGBTQ.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz, via a written statement:

“It is a sad day in Florida. Make no mistake, by signing the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, Ron DeSantis is taking the side of hatred, bullying, and discrimination and sending a clear message to children in Florida that he doesn’t care about them or their families if he can use their pain to score political points with his base. Florida’s families deserve leaders who will stand up for them and give them the freedom to be proud of who they are.”

Equality Florida via Twitter:

“Today @GovRonDeSantis signed the #DontSayGay bill in the most cowardly way possible. He hid his agenda from the media & the public until the last moment, skulking onto a charter school campus that is exempt from the law & away from students who would protest his presence.”

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a written statement:

“Parents are central to their children’s education, and that was true long before the governor signed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ into law. Parents, teachers, school staff and administrators are part of the same team. We all want to make sure each student gets the education they deserve and need, regardless of that child’s race, background, ZIP code, or ability.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida, another Democrat running for governor, in a Twitter post:

“It’s a grim day for Florida. Today especially, I want our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Florida and across the country to know that they are loved and will always be welcomed in the Sunshine State.”

DeSantis issued a statement supporting the bill:

“Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children. Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for DeSantis, said in a Twitter post:

“Media wonders if Florida is concerned about boycotts over Parental Rights in Education. We aren’t. But even if we were: No amount of money would convince Gov. DeSantis to change his position. He will always stand for parental rights and protecting children.”

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, said on Twitter:

“In Florida, schools have NO right to sexualize the education of young children! Today @GovRonDeSantis banned classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity for kids under 9 years old. Let kids identity as kids!”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.