“Don’t Say Gay” Bill Becomes Law
The widely criticized “Don’t Say Gay” bill is now law after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on Monday amongst a gathering of conservative lawmakers, students and parents. The measure will go into effect on July 1.
DeSantis’ signature comes after months of national outcry over the chilling effect the bill poses for LGBTQ students in Florida, educators and classroom instruction and discussion of LGBTQ topics. The Parental Rights in Education bill explicitly prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and bans similar discussions at all grade levels if done “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
DeSantis signed the bill during a ceremony held at Classical Preparatory School, a K-12 charter school in Spring Hill, FL that wouldn’t be subject to measure.
“We will make sure parents send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said prior to signing the bill. “We will continue to recognize that, in the state of Florida, parents have a fundamental role in the education, healthcare and well-being of their children. We will not move from that.”
DeSantis criticized “school materials” that mentioned “sexuality and woke gender ideology” before displaying multiple examples of what he called “transgender educational materials” he claimed were found in Florida schools, including a poster of “The Genderbread Man,” a visual tool used to lead discussions on gender identity and expression. “Overwhelmingly, parents oppose injecting this kind of material into their kids,” said DeSantis.
The governor also noted the wide denouement of the bill saying that it’s opponents “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten” and “enabling schools to transition students to a ‘different gender’ without the knowledge of the parent, much less without the parent’s consent,” phrasing that points to the recent re-framing of the bill by supporters as an “anti-grooming” bill.
He also took aim at Hollywood as a number of celebrities, including Jessica Chastain at Sunday’s Academy Awards, have denounced the bill. “If the people who held Harvey Weinstein up oppose us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor,” DeSantis said.
“The Most Cowardly Way Possible”
LGBTQ advocacy groups were quick to condemn DeSantis’ signing of the bill. “Today, Governor DeSantis once again placed Florida squarely on the wrong side of history, and place his own young constituents directly in harm’s way – and he has done this for no other reason than to serve his own political ambitions,” said Human Rights Campaign interim president Joni Madison in a statement.
Equality Florida characterized how DeSantis signed the bill as “the most cowardly way possible” in a statement. “He hid his agenda from the media and the public until the last moment, skulking onto a charter school campus that is exempt from the law and away from students who would protest his presence,” Equality Florida said. “He has attacked parents and children in our state by invoking hateful anti-LGBTQ stereotypes all to pander to his right-wing base as he prepares to run for president in 2024.”
The organization said DeSantis “damaged our state’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place for all families.” “[H]e has made us a laughing stock and target of national derision. Worse, he has made schools less safe for children.”
“In November, I will have the pleasure of voting this bigot out of office, alongside millions of my peers,” said Jack Petocz, the student who helped organize the DSG Walkout protest earlier this month that saw Florida high schoolers speak out en mass against the bill. “Gov. DeSantis, count your days as governor, you’re messing with the wrong generation.”
“If Ron DeSantis truly cared about ‘protecting children,’ he’d develop programs and resources to address the struggles LGBTQ+ youth disproportionately face. Instead, he’s signing legislation to erase us from existence for political gain,” Petocz added.
“HB 1557 has been weaponized by the governor to launch a bigoted, smear campaign to attack and defame LGBTQ+ Floridians with baseless accusations of grooming/pedophilia,” said out gay state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith following DeSantis’ signing of the bill.
“Time and time again, DeSantis has proven he cares more about catering to extremists than protecting his constituents,” said the Democratic National Committee in a statement. “Floridians deserve a governor who isn’t solely focused on scoring his next Fox News interview and is actually working to deliver for them.”
Defenders of the bill have stated that critics mischaracterize the language of the bill by labeling it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While those exact words do not appear in the text of HB 1557, legal experts have expressed concern over the vague language of the bill as it pertains to determining the age and developmental appropriateness of teachings on LGBTQ topics.
“Vagueness is deployed for certain purposes. People aren’t vague just because they’re ignorant; they’re not vague because they’re sloppy; they’re not vague because they’re lazy,” University of Miami law professor Charlton Copeland told NBC News. “Sometimes they’re intentionally vague to move the site of where the political fight is going to take place.”
Smith commented on the vague language of the bill on Twitter by pointing out that QAnon adjacent Proud Boys supporter Esther Byrd was nominated to Florida’s State of Board of Education earlier this month by DeSantis. “Remember the vague part of #DontSayGay … Well, QAnon will now decide what “age-appropriate” means,” Smith said.
The bill allows parents to file civil suits against school districts and school employees if they deem a topic of discussion about LGBTQ individuals or topics isn’t appropriate for their child regardless of the student’s age. “This kind of ever-present possibility of having to defend oneself, of a school district having to spend resources, will have its own chilling effects,” Copeland said. “If a student raises a question that is not part of the lesson plan or the instructional plan of a teacher, but that question ties to sexual orientation or gender identity, then what may the teacher say at that point?” added Clay Calvert, University of Florida Levin College of Law professor.
Smith, like others, signaled that the fight to repeal the bill will continue. “The battle against #DontSayGay is far from over,” he said in a statement. “To those LGBTQ youth in Florida and around the world struggling to find support, just know that you are loved exactly the way you are and we’ll continue to fight for you every single day because your lives are worth fighting for.”
Don’t Say Gay: Previously on Towleroad
Screenshot via YouTube