TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law highly controversial legislation that restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.
Flanked by young students, DeSantis signed House Bill 1557 Monday at Classical Preparatory School, a K-12 charter school in Spring Hill.
The legislation—officially entitled “Parental Rights in Education” but referred to by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—has drawn sharp criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates, students, Democrats, the White House and the entertainment industry.
The bill contains a number of measures that give parents more rights when it comes to dealing with school districts and how they handle issues with students.
The backlash around the bill all comes from one paragraph, which states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
“We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate pornographic materials for very young kids, and we’ve seen services that were given to students without the consent or even knowledge of their parents across the country, and unfortunately, that’s happened here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.
He said six school districts in Florida—Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia County school districts—had policies that cut parents out of decisions regarding their child.
“Martin County also had a gender transition plan that can be implemented without the parents’ consent,” DeSantis added. “In Leon County, Florida, a school excluded parents from conversations about a students ‘gender transition,’ a situation for which the district’s superintendent has apologized for and admitted should never have occurred.”
At Monday’s press conference, the governor also took aim at the “Genderbread Person,” a model shown to children in classrooms that depicts the ways society constructs gender.
“This is inappropriate for kindergarteners and first graders and second-graders,” DeSantis said. “Parents do not want this going on in their schools.”
Most of the legislation addresses students’ access to mental health and other health services.
Under the law, schools are required to notify parents when students seek health services for gender issues, sexuality, depression, substance use, or any other challenge.
“The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent,” the bill says.
Parents are also given the right to opt their children out of counseling and health services.
“At the beginning of the school year, each school district shall notify parents of each healthcare service offered at their student’s school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service. … Before administering a student well-being questionnaire or health screening form to a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the school district must provide the questionnaire or health screening form to the parent and obtain the permission of the parent,” it adds.
Parents are also given the option to sue a school district if they believe it violated the law.
“A court may award damages and shall award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to a parent who receives declaratory or injunctive relief,” the bill adds.
“Americans support the right of parents to be informed and to be able to withhold consent over certain types of medical treatments in school,” DeSantis told reporters Monday. “We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
Critics worry the bill will have far-reaching implications for Florida students and teachers.
“Forcing school personnel to report students’ sexual orientation to parents is dangerous and goes against all psychological best practices. Many students fear disclosing to their parents and seek guidance from teachers, counselors or coaches. Such communications have been lifesaving. Allowing lawsuits will put a chilling effect on educators who simply try to respect students’ concerns,” June S. Neal wrote in a letter to the Palm Beach Post.
“Although Republican legislators claim this bill is intended to protect very young children from a non-age-appropriate subject, it introduces some insidious byproducts. The worst is a clear message to LGBTQ students that they are unwanted and unacceptable, and we don’t want to talk about you,” Neal said.
Nicolette Solomon, 28, is a lesbian who teaches fourth grade in Miami-Dade County told NBC News she is already hesitant to mention her wife at school, and the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
She vowed to quit teaching if it became law.
“If I can’t be myself, seven hours a day, five days a week, then I’m going back in the closet, and I can’t do that. It’s not good for my own mental health,” she said. “And I don’t think I can bear to see the students struggle and want to ask me about these things and then have to deny them that knowledge. That’s not who I am as a teacher.”
The governor slammed critics of the law at the bill signing Thursday, saying they supported “sexualizing kids in kindergarten and “injecting woke ideology” into classrooms.
“Someone told me that there are even people in Hollywood that are opposed to providing protections for parents and enforcing parents rights,” DeSantis said, seemingly referring to the opening monologue of Sunday night’s Academy Awards in Los Angeles, in which Wanda Sykes joked about the bill. “If the people who held up degenerates like Harvey Weinstein up as exemplars and heroes, and all that. If those are the type of people who are opposing us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor.”
“I don’t care what corporate media outlets say, I don’t care what Hollywood says, I don’t care what big corporations say,” DeSantis said. “Here I stand. I’m not backing down.”
Equality Florida, a LGBTQ advocacy group and critic of the bill, responded to the signing in a round table discussion featuring current and former lawmakers, as well as other advocates.
They said they will take steps to fight the bill, though wouldn’t comment on specifically when that will happen. They did call on those in a position of power, such as large companies headquartered in Florida, to get involved.
“I think it is incumbent upon Disney, and any other corporation who is serious in their opposition against ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ that they actually help with these initiatives, that they help support litigation to overturn this law in the courts or repeal it legislatively,” said Fla. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando. “They can step forward and help mitigate any potential harm against LGBTQ youth in the state of Florida and they can — not temporarily, but they can forever — stop supporting Governor Ron DeSantis and supporters of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill through campaign contribution.”