Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the Parental Rights in Education bill—known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—into law Monday, enacting the policy despite widespread controversy and likely paving the way for other states to impose similar legislation.
In a bill-signing at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill, Florida, DeSantis claimed parents’ rights have been “increasingly ignored” and criticized classroom materials showing depictions of transgender people or discussions of gender identity.
He also decried the widespread criticism of the law, saying if Hollywood celebrities oppose it, “I wear that like a badge of honor.”
HB 1557 will prohibit any “classroom instruction” involving “sexual orientation or gender identity” through the third grade, and any discussions about it in older grades if it’s “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
The law will also require that schools notify parents of any changes “related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” unless it will result in “abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” leading to fears it could require schools to disclose students’ sexual orientation or gender identity to their parents.
Republicans have denied that the law is discriminatory, but critics worry the bill’s vague language will lead to widespread censorship of LGBTQ issues in schools and harm LGBTQ youth and their mental health.
Critics decried DeSantis’ signing of the bill Monday, with Nadine Smith, director of Equality Florida, saying in a statement the governor did so “in the most cowardly way possible” by not publicizing the bill signing and “skulking onto a charter school campus that is … away from students who would protest his presence.”
“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 Monday about criticism of the law. “Here I stand. I’m not backing down.”
The bill has been widely condemned, including by LGBTQ advocacy groups, Democratic lawmakers and celebrities, with President Joe Biden previously decrying the bill as “hateful” and the Human Rights Campaign saying Monday DeSantis “placed Florida squarely on the wrong side of history, and placed his own young constituents directly in harm’s way” by signing the bill. Disney, whose Walt Disney World resort in Florida is the largest single-site employer in the U.S., also came out against the bill following a widespread outcry over its initial refusal to do so, with CEO Bob Chapek suspending the company’s political donations in Florida and telling employees in a letter the bill was a “challenge to basic human rights.”
What To Watch For
The bill to be challenged in court. The HRC and Equality Florida said Monday they plan to challenge HB 1557 in court and work to repeal it in the legislature, and Disney said in a statement after the bill was signed that “our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”
DeSantis signed the legislation less than a day after it came up during the Academy Awards Sunday night. “For you people in Florida, we’re going to have a gay night,” comedian Wanda Sykes said, with her and co-hosts Amy Schumer and Regina Hall going on to repeatedly say the word “gay” in defiance of the bill.
What We Don’t Know
How many other states will follow suit. Georgia lawmakers have introduced a bill that would similarly restrict “classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity,” and other bills targeting LGBTQ-related content in schools are pending in such states as Indiana, Tennesse, Oklahoma and Kansas.
HB 1557 is part of a broader slew of policies in GOP-led states targeting LGBTQ youth in recent months, along with other measures that have garnered significant controversy like Texas directing “child abuse” investigations into parents of transgender youth. The HRC reports 2021 was the “worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ legislation,” with 25 bills enacted into law nationwide. DeSantis, who’s viewed as a potential 2024 hopeful, had been widely expected to sign HB 1557 into law. The governor became particularly outspoken in favor of the bill as it garnered more controversy and after Disney came out against it, slamming Disney as being too “woke” in an interview on Fox News. “In Florida, our policies [have] got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations,” he said.
Opponents Call It the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Here’s What It Says. (New York Times)