Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, tweeted accusations that people who oppose a sex education bill working its way through the Legislature are “groomers” or those who would not denounce “groomers” — references to pedophilia and people who help “groom” children for pedophiles and other abusers.
Her tweets drew angry condemnation Sunday from the bill’s opponents. They expressed disbelief that the Governor’s Office would characterize political opponents of a highly-controversial piece of legislation as groomers or pedophiles.
They’re talking about HB 1557, a bill passed by the House on party lines and ready for the Senate’s Special-Order Calendar Monday. The bill officially is entitled “Parental Rights in Education.” Opponents dub it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, because it bans discussions of homosexuality in lower grade levels.
The bill would ban kindergarten through third grade classroom “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity,” or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The legislation does not restrict the topics from being barred across all ages if the school district deems the instruction age-inappropriate. Nor does it more broadly restrict sex education for younger students.
Attempts by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democrats to amend the bill to explicitly ban sex education in those lower grade levels — instead of making references only to sexual orientation or gender identity — were shot down. That helped fuel opponents’ assertions that the bill is not really about banning sex education, but about banning any classroom references to LGBTQ issues.
Pushaw provided the pedophilia inferences from the Governor’s Office first on Friday night.
“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw tweeted.
She followed that up with: “If you’re against the anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4- to 8-year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
By Sunday those being called groomers were firing back.
“They’re saying we’re all pedophiles. It’s unhinged, unreal,” said Democrat Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando. “And coming out of the Governor’s Office, it’s so ridiculous.”
“#DeSantis’ spokesperson openly accused opponents of #DontSayGay of being ‘groomers’— aka PEDOPHILES. Bigoted attacks like this against LGBTQ people are the worst of the worst. They’re disgusting and dangerous and have NO PLACE in the Guv’s office,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.
West Park Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones said in a statement: “Gov. DeSantis personally owes millions of Floridians an explanation as to why his spokesperson — whose salary is paid wholly with tax dollars — believes it is acceptable to label opponents to this bigoted bill as ‘groomers,’ a code word for pedophiles. It is outrageous that the Governor’s Office continues to use taxpayer resources to advance a radical, partisan agenda. Students, educators, and families across the state overwhelmingly agree: enough of the intimidation and targeted assaults on Florida’s most vulnerable.”
Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon of Jacksonville called for Pushaw’s resignation.
“@ChristinaPushaw has shown us she’s anti-Semitic and now that she’s openly homophobic. She definitely needs to resign,” Nixon tweeted.
The anti-Semitic accusation arose from Pushaw’s tweets in January questioning whether real Nazis were to blame for a Nazi demonstration in Orlando. She made that challenge instead of denouncing the demonstration.
Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, called her new tweets a “bigoted anti-LGBTQ rant.”
“Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson said the quiet part out loud: that this bill is grounded in a belief that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, are a threat to children and must be erased. He chose Pushaw to speak his mind to the public. He owns this unbridled hatred,” reads an Equality Florida statement released Sunday.
“This same bigoted insinuation has long been used to stigmatize our families, justify denying us the ability to adopt children, and is being used to justify the tracking of transgender children by government agents in Texas and threats to imprison their parents. Make no mistake — this is a tacit announcement from the Governor that he supports the true intent of the Don’t Say Gay bill: the erasure of LGBTQ people,” the statement continues.
In texts to Florida Politics, Pushaw wrote that her definition of “grooming” includes “talking to kids about sex. There is no reason for 3- to 8-year-olds to learn about sex in school, and anyone who wants to teach kids that young about sex — particularly over parental objections — is creating an environment where grooming can easily occur.”
When offered the idea that the word “grooming” is widely accepted as a reference to pedophilia, she followed up.
“Pedophiles groom kids by talking to them about sex,” she wrote.
“So those who want to teach 3- to 8-year-olds about sex are either groomers, don’t want to protect kids from groomers, or have not read the bill but have been misled by the DNC media’s despicable campaign of lies repeating the baseless Democratic branding ‘don’t say gay,'” she continued.
For his part, DeSantis has tried to keep a bit of distance from the bill, strongly pointing out that it was not his initiative, while still saying that he supports it.