Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial parental rights legislation governing classroom instruction on LGBTQ matters Monday afternoon, amid criticism directed toward the proposal, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents.
The Governor signed the bill during a press conference at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill, behind a lectern stamped with “Protect children, support parents.” He was joined by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, as well as a slew of local Republican legislators.
The legislation will take effect July 1, before the start of the new school year.
“I think the last couple of years really reveal to parents that they are being ignored increasingly across education,” DeSantis said. “We have seen curriculum embedded for very, very young children, classroom materials about sexuality and woke gender ideology. We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate pornographic materials for very young kids.”
The bill hit the Governor’s desk after hours of impassioned debate and protest from students. It even garnered national flak, from the White House to Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony. The Governor slammed bill opponents, saying those who disagree with the legislation “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten.”
“These leftist politicians, corporate media outlets, some of these activist groups, they actually have read the bill, and they’re sloganeering because they don’t want to admit that they support a lot of the things that we’re providing protections against. For example, they support sexualizing kids in kindergarten,” DeSantis said, referencing the slogan “Don’t Say Gay.”
“What they’re doing with these slogans and these narratives, is they are trying to camouflage their true intentions.”
The proposal (HB 1557), sponsored by Williston Republican Rep. Joe Harding, would limit classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity, a move Republican leadership says would bolster parental rights. The bill follows up on last year’s “Parental Bill of Rights,” which said public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents to direct the upbringing of their child.
The measure 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.” The legislation does not restrict the topics from being barred across all ages if the school district deems the instruction age-inappropriate.
Parents who think a classroom discussion was not age-appropriate or who are unsupportive of a district’s policies would be able to sue for damages and attorneys fees.
Two parents spoke on the legislation Monday, citing their personal experience dealing with instructional material that teaches children it’s okay to be different.
“Here’s where I drew the line. Thanksgiving morning — (my son) chose to tell me on Thanksgiving — we’re sitting there and he tells me about a book that (his teacher) had read the class called ‘Call Me Max,'” said Erin Lovely, a now-homeschool mother from Palm Beach. “If you’ve read the book at all, I could cry thinking about it. There was no permission slip given. No heads up and, ‘Hey, how do you feel about this?’ Nothing.”
“After she finished the book,” Lovely continued, “he raised his hand, and he said, ‘No, this isn’t right. This is not who God made him to be.’ And she disagreed with him and said, ‘No, you can be whatever you want to be, you just have an imagination.'”
Under the new legislation, if a school taught books like “Call Me Max,” about a child navigating their gender identity, a parent could pursue legal action.
In addition to instructional guidelines, the legislation also would limit confidentiality between students and school personnel, requiring that a school district “may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”
School personnel only are permitted to withhold such information from a parent “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” the bill reads.
That portion of the legislation stems from a case referenced by the Governor involving a Leon County School District support plan for gender-nonconforming students. That form advises educators to not out a student to parents if they have expressed they are LGBTQ or questioning their sexuality or gender. The form does not restrict educators from telling parents unless a student explicitly says so.
There is an ongoing lawsuit against the Leon County School District filed by parents of a teenager who confided their identity with school officials, who developed a gender-conforming plan for the student. The parent involved in that case, January Littlejohn, also spoke Monday.
“When parents are separated from critical decisions affecting their child’s health and well-being at school, it sends the message to children that their parents’ input and authority are no longer important,” Littlejohn said. “This created a huge wedge between our daughter and us, and sends the message that she needed to be protected from us, not by us.”
Senators sent the bill to the Governor after approving it in a 22-17 vote, with two Republican legislators, Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley, breaking from their party to vote against the bill. While Brandes had already expressed frustration with the bill, Bradley decided to vote down on it out of concern “about the message it sends.”
However, despite the Governor’s signature codifying the bill into law, there is already talk of a lawsuit to overturn the legislation.
Equality Florida, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, announced the group is looking to pursue legal action against the legislation after its passage in the Senate.
Miami Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, who works within the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, argued the courts will throw out the bill for “invidious discrimination.”
“That, ladies and gentlemen, will be what the court points to and quotes as a prima facie case, on its face, of invidious discrimination for what we have targeted and we have selected as a protected class,” Pizzo said. “Why is drug use discussion not prohibited? The issue is, why is gender identity and sexual orientation specifically prohibited when there are so many other very difficult mature subjects that are not exempted?”
Pizzo cited comments by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, who filed the Senate version of the bill (SB 1834). Baxley came under fire during multiple Senate debates for comments he made during questions, saying that he brought the bill because there is a cultural shift encouraging students to “come out.”
“Why is everybody now all about coming out when you’re in school? And there really is a dynamic of concern of how much of these are genuine … experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about,” he said. “There’s something wrong with how we’re emphasizing this, and all of a sudden overnight they’re a celebrity. … I know parents are very concerned about the departure of the core belief systems and values.”
The legislation has been the subject of controversy, with waves of Florida students protesting the legislation in a last-ditch plea with state Senators to vote it down.
It has also drawn public criticism from physicians, members of the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ advocacy organizations, the Florida PTA and ACLU Florida at committee hearings. Proponents of the bill include Florida Citizens Alliance, Christian Family Coalition and the Florida Family Rights Council.