The GOP-controlled Senate approved the so-called “Parental Rights in Education” bill Tuesday via a 22-17 vote. The measure (HB 1557), dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, would ban classroom “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” for older students.
The legislation does not restrict the topics from being barred across all ages if the school district deems the instruction age-appropriate. And critics also warn provisions of the bill could allow students to be outed to parents.
Bill proponents argue those concerns are overstated, and say the purpose is to shield children from non-age-appropriate discussions in the classroom and leave those discussions to parents. The House approved the measure late last month, meaning it will next head to the Governor’s desk for his signature. Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated he would sign the bill.
Below are some of the reactions from officials and advocate in Florida and across the U.S. following the bill’s final passage.
Gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist
“It is demeaning, it is unnecessary and its cruel. Gov. DeSantis wants this to be part of his legacy, and its a shame. We need to bring people together, that’s why I’m running for Governor of Florida. Let’s have a Florida for all, where everyone matters and everyone is respected.”
The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill has passed the Florida Legislature and is heading to @GovRonDeSantis’ desk — I’m urging the governor to veto this dangerous bill that’ll directly harm our LGBTQ+ youth.
Florida is better than this. pic.twitter.com/LwvqPxgFAF
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) March 8, 2022
Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Val Demings
The Don’t Say Gay bill has officially passed both chambers of the Florida legislature.
This is a dark day for Florida, but to our LGBTQ+ community: I will never tire in the fight to protect your right to exist and to be your authentic selves. https://t.co/DpOc4aOwQi
— Val Demings (@valdemings) March 8, 2022
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor
Thank you @SecCardona for speaking out against discrimination and in support of students.
GOP legislators also want Floridians to be distracted from the fact that Florida, the 3rd largest state, ranks 46th in per pupil support for students. 😳
Our kids deserve so much better! https://t.co/0xpOhJlkEY
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) March 8, 2022
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson
Today is a sad day for the people of Florida, and a horrific step backwards in the fight for #LGBTQ+ equality. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is discriminatory and homophobic, and our students deserve better. Period. https://t.co/Y76OjuOeh6
— Rep. Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) March 8, 2022
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona
“Parents across the country are looking to national, state, and district leaders to support our nation’s students, help them recover from the pandemic, and provide them the academic and mental health supports they need. Instead, leaders in Florida are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need. The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.”
Heather Williams, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee
“LGBTQ kids are already at a higher risk for bullying, suicide, and homelessness and now Florida Republicans are attempting to force them back into the closet through shame and isolation,” Williams said. “School should be a safe space for kids to learn and grow, but instead Republicans are whitewashing American history, normalizing school shootings, and banning talking about who we are and who we love. Democrats are standing with parents and students to fight against this intolerance. Legislators should be protecting the fundamental rights of LGBTQ Americans in classrooms, not restricting them.”
Gubernatorial candidate and Sen. Annette Taddeo
“Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Republicans sacrificed the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students in order to appeal to the most radical parts of their base. Despite their claims, SB 1834 directly targets the LGBTQ+ community. Multiple amendments were introduced by members of both parties that would have improved this terrible bill by broadening its language to remove the insidious language which targets LGBTQ+ students in our schools but those were all rejected. These students already do not receive enough support in schools and this bill will only lead to more anxiety, fear, isolation, and depression. Under Republicans’ watch, Florida has become the least affordable state in the nation. Instead of creating solutions to problems that don’t exist and hurting our children in the process, we should be helping families all across Florida that are being priced out of their homes and communities.”
State Sen. Janet Cruz
“Today, the Florida Senate passed HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. As the mother of a gay child, and as someone who cares about personal freedom and protecting our most vulnerable, I’m deeply disappointed that this bill is one step closer to becoming law. We’ve fought very hard to achieve the freedoms we enjoy today in our state and in our country. This bill threatens that freedom. It allows politicians, not teachers, to decide what is appropriate to discuss with students. And although it’s touted as being protective, it’s really the opposite. In 2017, a survey conducted by the Florida Department of Health found that gay students are nearly five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. They found that 40% of gay students had seriously considered suicide and 23% had attempted it. This bill will lead to further mistreatment and stigmatization of gay students and it will quite literally put their lives at risk. We should be making sure that every child in the Florida public school system feels safe and seen in the classroom — not isolated and alone. I want Florida’s LGBTQ youth to know that we support them and that we stand by them. And most importantly, that we will never stop fighting for them.” Cruz said.
“I’m a legislator, but I’m a mother first. I understand how important it is to make sure every child has a learning environment where they know they are loved and where they feel respected. Although today’s news is upsetting, I will never stop fighting for all the children of this state, especially our most vulnerable.”
State Sen. Shevrin Jones
“This bill is another stain on Florida’s history, and history will undoubtedly hold us accountable. I shared on the floor my own deeply personal story and challenges coming out and the rejections faced in my church, from friends, from members of my family. That is the last thing any of us should wish upon any individual. And yet, in the last few days, many in Tallahassee and across the state have said the quiet part out loud: insulting educators with claims that public schools are ‘socially engineering’ children, labeling members of the LGBTQ community and allies as ‘groomers.’ This hostile assault on Floridians isn’t about parental rights. It is about control. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to improve people’s daily lives — to move the ball forward when it comes to creating safer schools and safer communities. Just as I’ve dedicated my journey to lifting up voices of the voiceless, I will keep fighting and keep up the pressure on those colleagues who are on the wrong side of these critical issues of human rights. It is deeply distressing that many of them have been loved through some of the toughest times of their lives but fail to show others that same grace. This isn’t about politics, but about the truth of the human condition.”
State Sen. Bobby Powell
— Senator Bobby Powell, Jr. (@BobbyPowellJr) March 8, 2022
State Rep. Joe Harding
“As lawmakers, our role is not to educate in the classroom or administer schools but rather to set the core policies that reflect our values as a state,” Harding said. “Without equivocation, this legislation affirms the primary responsibility parents have for the upbringing and education of their own children. No teacher, principal, or school board should be the ones deciding when to include parents in the conversation. The Parental Rights in Education bill will ensure parents are kept informed about their children’s education and that certain topics for younger children will be reserved for the home.”
“I was disappointed in the public fight over this legislation,” Harding added. “Despite the efforts to distort by many outside forces, including the national media and even the White House, we know that Florida law should reflect our values for parents and their children. I encourage Gov. DeSantis to sign this bill into law as soon as he receives it from the Florida Legislature.”
Democratic state Senate candidate Eunic Ortiz
“No one is asking for this piece of legislation in Florida. Florida is lagging in available affordable housing, fully funded public education, and repairs to our roadways and bridges. Yet, Republicans and Gov. DeSantis have made it their top priority to silence students and teachers in the classroom. We know that LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience harassment while they’re in our care in schools and we should be doing everything we can to support them,” Ortiz said.
“As a product of Pinellas County public schools, I know first hand what it was like to experience discrimination by school administrators for being openly gay. Floridians are being subjected to authoritarian and dangerous policies and actions by the very people elected to protect us. Republicans can no longer use our lives and jeopardize our safety to score political points. It is basic human decency and the bare minimum of our government to protect our most vulnerable communities. This includes LGBTQ students. The DeSantis administration needs to stop placating to homophobic wealthy special interests, and start leading for all Floridians.”
Democratic state Senate candidate Janelle Perez
“The state of Florida just took a few steps back from the progress we’ve made since my first daughter was born almost five years ago. Yesterday my wife gave birth to our second daughter, and while we celebrated a new addition to the family and my right to legally sign her birth certificate, our day was clouded by the fact that LGBTQ students and families were in Tallahassee fighting for our right to exist. It’s a shame to see the Republican-led Legislature focus so intently on dividing Floridians by creating made-up problems in order to distract from their lack of solutions to the real issues impacting our state. From now until November, I will be working every day to earn the support of my community so that I can uplift, rather than censor, our voice in Tallahassee. When we win, I will be the first LGBTQ parent in the state Legislature and a walking reminder in those halls that LGBTQ families exist and are thriving in the state of Florida.”
Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida
“Make no mistake; this anti-LGBTQ+ bill affects all Florida students and teachers. With this bill, politicians have essentially silenced teachers and students from speaking and learning about LGBTQ+ siblings, family members, friends, neighbors, and icons. This act of government censorship is ruthless and is designed to erase the existence of all LGBTQ+ stories and people from our Florida schools. The government should never be in the business of passing censorship bills. All of our kids should feel loved, accepted, and supported. This bill does the opposite. Banning the free speech of teachers and students is harmful and dangerous. Targeting LGBTQ+ kids and family members is discriminatory and cruel. Instead of forcing LGBTQ+ people back into the closet by banning conversations or stopping kids from talking about their parents, the Legislature should pass bills that support kids and families. It is always appropriate to teach kids to be kind, generous, loving, and supportive; this is how we raise respectful and humane adults. If we don’t teach our kids to love and accept one another, they will grow up to be adults who hate and ostracize people who are different from them. This harms all Floridians. HB 1557 will directly harm already vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth and put their lives at risk. Florida politicians should be ashamed of its passage. This bill is a disgrace.”
“Let us be clear: should its vague language be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family, we will lead legal action against the State of Florida to challenge this bigoted legislation. We will not sit by and allow the Governor’s Office to call us pedophiles. We will not allow this bill to harm LGBTQ Floridians. We will not permit any school to enforce this in a way that endangers the safety of children. We stand ready to fight for Floridians in court and hold lawmakers who supported this bill accountable at the ballot box. At every turn, the Florida legislature rejected reasonable amendments to this legislation and refused to mitigate its harm. Now, in deference to the extreme political agenda of the Governor, the Florida Senate has passed the hateful Don’t Say Gay bill and sent it to his desk. Lawmakers rejected the voices of tens of thousands who sent emails and made phone calls asking for them to put a stop to this bill, thousands of courageous students who walked out of class, hundreds of people who testified before their bodies, dozens of child welfare organizations and leaders who spoke up to name the harms of the bill, and their own Republican colleagues who refused to support it. Instead, they locked arms with the angry mobs hurling anti-LGBTQ slurs at those asking for nothing more than a safe place to go to school without having to hide who they are.”
David J. Johns, executive director of the Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization the National Black Justice Coalition
“Shame on Florida. Our children, all children deserve better. This legislation is a direct attack on LGBTQ+ kids, undermining their mental and emotional health, and fostering an environment of intolerance and ignorance. And for Black LGBTQ+/SGL kids, who already face barriers to feeling safe and supported at schools, those harms will be amplified tenfold. The reality is simple — this will hurt children, increase suicide rates among the LGBTQ+ kids, and hurt non-LGBTQ+ children who would benefit from learning to celebrate diversity and build skills that enable them to thrive in the real world. No one gains from watching elected officials bully vulnerable children and their families in an attempt to deny that LGBTQ+ people exist and deserve love and respect. Make no mistake — this effort isn’t about making children safer in schools, and this certainly isn’t about making sure our students are educated and prepared for the real world. These are the political machinations of a fringe privileged minority: Mainly white, male, cisgender, heterosexual lawmakers with no experience as educators and with no compassion for children who did not ask to be born — who are often assumed to belong to minoritized communities. They are trying to force a post-truth world upon the whole of Florida, taking power from local school districts and teachers and pretending as though the truth isn’t worth telling, especially when it makes some of us uncomfortable. Attempting to prevent students from knowing and feeling comfortable using words, histories and experiences will not make those words, histories and experiences disappear. It will only make it easier for students to learn and perform the worst parts of ignorance and hate. This is the kind of legislation we would expect from (Vladimir) Putin’s Russia, not from one of the largest and most diverse states in the country. Our students deserve better. Our country deserves better.”
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the free-expression group PEN America
“Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill amounts to a government diktat policing the speech of students and teachers in violation of the First Amendment. This censorious legislation inserts the heavy hand of legislators into the schoolroom, adjudicating what stories can be told, what subjects discussed and what families acknowledged. It sends a disturbing message to young people that some voices should be silenced, some people erased. It is a frontal attack on the rights of children and educators to express themselves openly and without fear of discrimination. It will chill speech, and make Florida classrooms a no-go zone for the freewheeling conversations that are essential to educating a democratic citizenry. This legislation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It forms part of a wave of intrusive bills and laws that forcibly insert politics and ideology into realms that belong in the hands of educators, parents and children. Educators are experts at how to tailor complex subjects in age-appropriate ways, and students have every right to see a breadth of voices and identities — including those that may reflect or be different from their own — in what they learn and read.”