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DeSantis signs parental rights bill, assailed as 'Don't Say Gay'

Don't Say Gay.jpg
Ryan Dailey
/
News Service of Florida
Protesters rally against a bill that would place restrictions on teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that restricts discussion of gender identification and sexual orientation in schools — a bill opponents decried as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The Legislation — one of the most controversial issues of this year's legislative session — was formally titled Parental Rights in Education. It prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; prohibits instruction that is not age appropriate for all students; and requires school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.

“Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children,” DeSantis said in announcing that he had signed the bill. “Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

The bill passed the Florida House 69-47 and the Senate 22-17. It will take effect July 1.

All but one Northeast Florida Republican — Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island — voted in favor of it. All of the Democrats voted no.

Critics assailed the bill as a intrusion on free speech, an attack on the LGBTQ community and an example of political pandering. Students around Florida walked out of classes to protest, and opponents converged on the Capitol during legislative debate.

The American Federal of Teachers immediately condemned the bill after DeSantis' signature, saying that Georgia has introduced similar legislation and other states are considering legislation to influence school policy around LGBTQ issues.

"This bill — and all the ones like it — single out certain kids and families for derision and denigration," said teachers federation President Randi Weingarten. "It is just wrong. Its intent is to divide our communities and make political hay, but it hurts children, hurts families and makes it hard for teachers to do their jobs."

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a statement saying, "Gov. DeSantis has chosen to target some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families, all while under the guise of 'parents' rights.'" Research shows that LGBTQ students are more likely to "experience persistent feels of sadness, hopelessness and even self-harm — not because of who they are but because of the hostility directed at them," Cardona said.

DeSantis portrayed the bill as part of what he called his "Year of the Parent" focus on protecting parental rights in education.

Parents can sue school districts for violations of the bill. The measure also provides an alternative process for resolving disputes that involves hearings before a special magistrate.

Florida Education Commissioner Robert Corcoran sad more parental involvement "leads to a better quality of life for children, and this important legislation helps ensure Florida’s great educators collaborate with parents to ensure students are learning and flourishing."

DeSantis on Monday disputed the “Don’t Say Gay” moniker and accused legislative opponents and other critics of “sloganeering.”

“You’ve seen a lot of sloganeering and fake narratives by leftist politicians, by activists, by corporate media. And you still see it even today after a lot of this stuff has been debunked," DeSantis said. "Now, it’s true, many of the people who whipped this up have never actually read the bill. They haven’t taken the time to do that, they would rather just further narratives."

The governor’s assertion drew an immediate rebuke from Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

“Dismissive and uninformed Republicans (claim) the reason for national outrage is because we haven’t read the bill. We read it. So did medical professionals, educators, community leaders and parents. It is an attack on Florida’s LGBTQ+ community and our teachers,” Book said in a statement.

The bill has drawn high-profile attention, including being parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and lampooned Sunday night by actors at the Oscars. The Walt Disney Company released a statement after the bill’s signing that said the legislation “should never have passed” or received the governor’s signature.

But DeSantis hit back against Hollywood and corporations that have opposed the bill.

“Parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care and well-being of their children. We will not move from that. I don’t care what corporate media outlets say. I don’t care what Hollywood says. I don’t care what big corporations say,” the governor said during Monday’s bill-signing event.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.