Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed controversial legislation derided as the "don't say gay" bill into law Monday. A representative from Lambda Legal has confirmed with The Advocate that the legislation is the first of its kind to bar discussions about a specific group of people in the state. Other topics have their appropriateness decided by state standards that are not typically enshrined in law.
"We have seen a curriculum embedded for very young children, classroom materials about sexuality and woke gender ideology," DeSantis said at a Monday press conference. "We've seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate, pornographic materials for very young kids. And we've seen services that were given to students without the consent or even knowledge of their parents across the country and unfortunately, that's happened here in the state of Florida."
Here he was likely referring to George M. Johnson's bookAll Boys Aren't Blue. A Florida school board member filed a criminal report over the memoir.
The bill is officially entitled "Parental Rights in Education," and sponsors during the legislative session stressed the true focus is on leaving discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity to parents to broach for the first time. The bill states that "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 in accordance with state standards." In addition, in another section it mandates that parents are informed about any changes with their child that could impact their mental, physical, or emotional health or well-being. This is regardless of whether school officials believe such a disclosure could lead to abuse.
DeSantis has emphatically pushed back against the "don't say gay" label. At the press conference, he asserted that currently Florida school districts have programs to work with students to transition their identity without the knowledge of parents.
"We've also found cases where school districts and individual schools took it upon themselves to decide it's okay to sexualize the education of very young children," DeSantis said.
He signed the bill days after also signing a bill that allows any group to object to materials used in schools, and requires the Department of Education to annually publish a list of these materials. He called the bills part of a fight against "woke" gender education. He quoted sections of It Feels Good To Be Yourself, written by Theresa Thorn, and compared the material to pornography.
"This is part of a national trend to cut parents out of their children's education," DeSantis said.
Many critics worry that, in addition to the explicit restrictions on lower grade levels, the vague "age appropriate" language will create a chilling effect for educators in all grade levels, including when discussing these matters with children ready to come out as queer. In addition, some like Chasten Buttigieg warn that the way the legislation could be interpreted by youth is likely to result in a rise in death by suicide attempts.
Florida Rep. Joe Harding, the bill's sponsor, recently said in a Twitter space with gay conservative Brandon Straka that many parents during the pandemic became far more aware of what was being taught in school.
"Parents started to realize that there was a lot of education going on with their kids that they didn't they weren't aware of, number one," the Republican said, "and number two, they started to realize how hard it was as parents to be engaged in the education system."
Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Republican who carried the bill in the upper chamber, also described on the Senate floor a concern he held about children coming out at younger ages.
"All of the sudden we're having all these issues come up about this topic of their sexuality and gender," he said. "I don't understand why that's such a big wave right now."
Out members of the Florida Legislature fought particularly hard against the legislation, fearful of erasure of LGBTQ+ individuals in the classroom.
"I am normal, I am healthy. I am a part of this world and I am a part of this chamber," said Florida Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, the only lesbian now serving in the Florida Legislature. "It's incredulous I have to be here defending my humanity."
Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat and a gay man, said school-aged pages who reaching out to him privately to thank him for fighting the bill. "To all LGBTQ youth-- we see you, you're loved and your lives are worth fighting for!" he said.
Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, Florida's first out senator, told the story of how heartbreaking it was when his father expressed disappointment after the lawmaker revealed he was gay. "I don't think y'all understand how much courage it takes to show up every day," Jones said.
Many supporters of the bill have done little to shroud animus toward LGBTQ+ individuals.
"Truth be told it's actually a 'don't turn my son into a daughter' bill," tweeted John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council. DeSantis's spokesperson has also called critics of the legislation groomers, implicitly referring to them as pedophiles.
DeSantis also responded to jokes at the Academy Award about the bill.
"The one thing I'll say about that is if the people who held up degenerates like Harvey Weinstein as exemplars and as heroes and as all that," DeSantis said, "if those are the types of people that are opposing us on parents rights, I wear that like a badge of honor."