Governor Ron DeSantis today has signed the discriminatory ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill (HB 1557) into law. Governor DeSantis chose Classical Preparatory school in Spring Hill, a charter school exempt from the bill’s impacts, as the backdrop for signing the legislation that has provoked international condemnation. The ‘Dont Say Gay’ bill has made national headlines since its first introduction from advocates, parents, leaders in commerce, and even from Saturday Night Live and last night’s Oscar Awards. Republican sponsors of the bill made clear that this is intended to erase LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ families, and LGBTQ history. Florida is now the first state to pass a law that attempts to ban any mention of LGBTQ people in schools in more than twenty years — when being gay was still a crime in Florida and 12 other states. Equality Florida hosted a virtual press conference after the signing with LGBTQ state lawmakers, LGBTQ student advocates, and LGBTQ parent advocates, the footage is available here.
“Governor Ron DeSantis signed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in the most cowardly way possible today. He hid his agenda from the media and the public until the last moment, skulking onto a charter school campus that is exempt from the law and away from students who would protest his presence,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. “He has attacked parents and children in our state by invoking hateful anti-LGBTQ stereotypes all to pander to his right-wing base as he prepares to run for President in 2024. DeSantis has damaged our state’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place for all families, he has made us a laughing stock and target of national derision. Worse, he has made schools less safe for children. Equality Florida will defend the rights of all students to have a healthy environment to learn and thrive and for all parents to know their families are included and respected. This law will not stand. We will work to see it removed either by the courts as unconstitutional or repealed by the legislature.”
The Florida Youth Risk Behavior Study (YRBS), an annual survey of Florida high school students, shows that schools have become less safe during the DeSantis Administration. According to the survey, 24.9% of high school students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or unsure of their sexual orientation, and 1.7% identified as transgender. For the first time in 8 years, the survey found an increase in the number of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who have attempted suicide. In Ron Desantis’ culture war Florida, LGBTQ+ high school students are four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight peers. This is why the Florida Parent Teacher Association and every credible child welfare agency in the state have denounced this cruel and stigmatizing legislation.
Today Governor Desantis doubled down on the QANON-like dog whistle that any opponent of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is a pedophile working to harm vulnerable youth. His dangerous rhetoric that all opponents of the bill are working to “sexualize students” and “camouflage their true intentions” should be denounced by both Republicans and Democrats. Nine Republican lawmakers joined Democrats, the Florida PTA, and child welfare organizations to oppose the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and its vaguely worded discrimination.
The loudest advocates of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill are the same far-right activists who have used bullhorns to scream at LGBTQ students and families at school board meetings and have called for more than 80 books to be banned from libraries, calling anything with LGBTQ content “pornographic.” This includes the books featuring same-sex parents and the true story of two male penguins raising a baby penguin together at the Central Park Zoo, “And Tango Makes Three.” If we allow schools to censor and exclude one group, others will be next. This is the kind of law one expects to see in an authoritarian state, not in a democracy.
“Don’t Say Gay” Bill:
The Don’t Say Gay bill effectively bans instruction of LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ families, and LGBTQ history in early grades and regulates it in all grades. It stigmatizes the LGBTQ community, chills efforts to create inclusive school environments, and isolates LGBTQ young people who are already at staggeringly higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation than their peers.
At every turn, the Florida Legislature rejected reasonable amendments to this legislation and refused to mitigate its harm. Including:
- An amendment that would have narrowed the definition of “classroom instruction” to “curriculum”.
- An amendment that would “ban classroom instruction intended to change a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression”.
- Republicans blocked multiple efforts from their GOP colleagues and Democrats in the Florida Legislature to make this a bill banning instruction on sexual topics for students from Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Lawmakers rejected the voices of tens of thousands who sent emails and made phone calls asking for them to put a stop to this bill, thousands of courageous students who walked out of class, hundreds of people who testified before their bodies, dozens of child welfare organizations and leaders who spoke up to name the harms of the bill, and their own Republican colleagues who refused to support it.
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. www.equalityflorida.org