The governor of Florida has signed a bill that bans the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, a policy that has drawn intense national scrutiny from critics who say it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
The legislation has pushed Florida and Ron DeSantis, an ascendant Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, to the forefront of the nation’s culture wars, with LGBTQ advocates, students, Democrats, the entertainment industry and the White House denouncing what critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill.
Mr. DeSantis and Republicans have repeatedly said the measure is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should discuss topics of sexual orientation and gender identity with their children.
“We will ensure that parents can send their children to school to receive education, not indoctrination,” he said before signing the bill.
He and other speakers stood at a podium on which was posted a sign that read Protect Children/Support Parents.
Critics say the bill is worded so vaguely that speech could be muzzled in public schools.
The legislation states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties about sexual orientation or gender identity may not take place in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that does not is not appropriate for the age or development of students in accordance with state standards.”
Parents could sue school leaders for violation.
Mr. DeSantis signed the bill after a press conference at Spring Hill Classical Preparatory School, about 46 miles north of Tampa.
The school was founded by Anne Corcoran, wife of education commissioner Richard Corcoran, according to the Gainesville Sun.
Public backlash began almost immediately after the bill was introduced, with initial criticism from Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and condemnation from LGBTQ advocacy groups. Democratic President Joe Biden called it “hateful”.
As the bill progressed through the legislature, celebrities rallied against it on social media and slammed it at this year’s Oscars.
Florida students staged walkouts and crowded into committee rooms and state halls to protest the measure, often with chants of “We say gay!”
The Walt Disney Company, a power player in Florida politics, suspended political donations in the state and its theme park employees staged walkouts for what they saw as a slow response against the bill. of General Manager Bob Chapek.
After Mr. DeSantis signed the measure, the company issued a statement saying, “Our goal as a company is to have this law repealed by the legislature or struck down by the courts, and we remain committed to supporting national organizations. and states working to achieve it.
Throughout the debate in the Republican-controlled state house, Democrats have said the bill’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age-appropriate,” could be interpreted as so broadly that discussion at any level could trigger lawsuits and create a classroom atmosphere where teachers avoid topics entirely.
“The bill’s intentionally vague language leaves teachers afraid to speak to their students and opens school districts to costly and frivolous litigation from those who seek to exclude LGBTQ people from any grade level,” said state Rep. Carlos G Smith, a gay Democrat.
“Worse still, #DontSayGay sends a hateful message to our most vulnerable young people who simply need our support.”
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said the bill is a political problem for Republicans because elementary schools, especially kindergarten through third grade, don’t teach those subjects and have standards. of state curriculum guiding classroom lessons.
“This bill is based on a lie, and that lie is that somehow we are teaching children inappropriate subjects at an early age, and that is clearly not the case,” he said. he declared.
During Monday’s signing ceremony, several young children accompanied Mr. DeSantis and other politicians near the podium, some holding signs bearing the governor’s slogan “Protect the Children/Support the Parents.”