After weeks of controversy, including eventual condemnation by the Walt Disney Company, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill has been signed into law. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill on Monday, March 28, surrounded by schoolchildren. “We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” he said at the signing.
DeSantis also seemed to address Disney, which recently took a public stance against the bill after weeks of employees demanding action resulted in a company-wide walkout. Although DeSantis didn’t name the company, he called out “people in Hollywood that are opposed to providing protections for parents and enforcing parents’ rights.” He continued, “If the people who held up degenerates like Harvey Weinstein as exemplars and as heroes, if those are the types of people and all that that are opposing us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor.”
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill originally passed the state legislature on March 8, in a 22-17 vote. Officially called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, the law forbids teachers from any “classroom instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity to students from kindergarten through third grade. However, critics are worried that the language of the bill could essentially have the effect of stopping teachers of any grade from ever discussing sexual orientation or gender identity at all, hence the nickname. Language in the most recent version of the bill, uploaded on March 8, specifically forbids “school instructors or third parties” from teaching anything about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The bill also includes a provision that allows parents to sue school districts if they feel an issue has not been resolved to their satisfaction regarding this law, which raises the question of who gets to decide what is “age appropriate” for students and what kind of discussion or instruction on LGBTQIA+ history and issues will be safe from prosecution. University of Utah law professor Clifford Rosky, who researched similar laws in Utah, told the AP in January that the Florida bill “has a greater discriminatory effect and a greater chilling effect, because it’s up to every individual parent to enforce the law.”
Defenders of the bill, like DeSantis, have tried to push back on the “Don’t Say Gay” label, insisting that the bill doesn’t directly ban the word “gay” from the classroom. “When you actually look at the bill, and it says ‘no sexual instruction to kids pre-K through three,’ how many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?” he said at a press conference on March 5. The bill would allow for students to bring up sexual orientation or gender identity in class, as long as it’s not part of a set curriculum, though it’s difficult to see how that would work in practice.
The law will reportedly take effect on July 1, 2022, but many have already pledged to fight against it. President Biden released a statement on Twitter promising to “continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.” The Walt Disney Company also released statement, promising to support a repeal of the law on March 28, saying, in part, “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.”
Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ laws continue to gain steam across the country. Texas governor Greg Abbott’s decision to declare gender-affirming medical care “child abuse” is in full swing, and the Daily Beast reported that there are 200 other anti-LGBTQ bills across state legislatures this year.