DeLand Republican Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff has become the third Republican to announce her campaign is returning donations made by Disney in response to the entertainment giant’s public stance on “parental rights” legislation (HB 1557), dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics.
Since January 2021, Disney has donated $2,000 to Fetterhoff’s campaign in $1,000 increments — the max an entity or individual can donate. Those contributions were made by Disney Gift Card Services and Disney Destinations LLC.
“Parents, who are their children’s first teachers, should always have a voice and decision making rights in the education of their children,” Fetterhoff said in a statement. “I stand with Governor (Ron) DeSantis, Speaker Chris Sprowls, and most importantly Florida’s parents in support of their parental rights and the ability for them to make decisions regarding the education of their children.”
The entertainment monolith and Republican leadership have been at odds during the last few weeks because of the bill. Fetterhoff joins two other Republican lawmakers — Reps. Joe Harding and Randy Maggard — who also decided to return the donations from Disney.
Harding, who sponsored the House bill, announced he returned the donations on Tuesday, after DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill Monday. The signing prompted harsh criticism from Disney. The corporation immediately came out with a statement after the bill signing, saying the legislation “should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law.”
The controversial legislation governs classroom instruction on LGBTQ matters. Specifically, the bill limits classroom instruction on “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.
Disney initially came under fire from Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against the controversial bill as it progressed through Tallahassee. During that time, the bill picked up vocal opposition, including hours of impassioned debate and protest from students. It even garnered national flak, from the White House to this year’s Oscar ceremony. The Governor slammed bill opponents at the signing Monday, saying those who disagree with the legislation “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten.”
Notably, Disney is one of the state’s largest employers and carries political weight in the Legislature, making significant donations to Republican leadership and some Democrats.
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.
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.
The legislation is set to take effect July 1, before the start of the new school year.