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On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, signed a parents’ rights bill that sparked a political firestorm after LGBTQ groups dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill. The seven-page piece of legislation includes a lot of dry language regarding school procedures, state education standards, parental permissions, school requirements, prohibitions against hiding information from parents about their children, and restrictions on teaching inappropriate sexual and gender ideology topics to children in the very youngest elementary grades.
Nowhere does the bill include the words “gay” or “LGBTQ.”
DeSantis stated during the signing ceremony that law is a bulwark against a national trend that aims to cut parents out of their children’s education, health decisions, and personal lives. “In Florida, we don’t just think parents should be involved. We insist that they be involved,” he said. “We will continue to recognize that in the state of Florida, parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care and well-being of their children. We will not move from that.”
The Parental Rights in Education bill defines and codifies exactly what its name implies. It sets up a variety of school procedures that reinforce the fundamental rights of parents to oversee the upbringing of their children and to be kept informed of and involved in any record, decision, or change that affects a student’s academic, mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
The Parental Rights in Education Law is a legislative means of ensuring that parents are made fully aware of what their students are experiencing in school, including their health and personal issues, and that parents — not teachers, counselors, or administrators — are the ones making the final decisions about their children.
The bill requires schools to notify parents of a student’s use of any mental, physical, or emotional health services available to their child and allows parents to also decline any of those services on behalf of their child. The provision is motivated by cases such as January Littlejohn, who spoke at the bill signing about how her daughter was placed in a “student support plan” without January’s knowledge when her daughter raised concerns about being non-binary. “When parents are excluded from critical decisions … it sends the message to children that their parents’ input and authority are no longer important,” Littlejohn said.
The bill also stops school from showing sexually explicit material to children. DeSantis said, “I think the last couple years have really revealed to parents that they are being ignored increasingly across our country when it comes to their kids’ education. We have seen curriculum embedded for very, very young children, classroom materials about sexuality and woke gender ideology. We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate pornographic materials for very young kids.”
The law is not a “don’t say gay” bill or “anti-LGBTQ,” as the bill’s text never even mentions the word “gay” or anything related to LGBT other than setting standards for when it is appropriate. And it is not a prohibition on ever discussing LGBT people, and that includes any grade. The only prohibitive actions being taken with this law is ensuring that sexual orientation gender ideology is not being taught to grades K-3 or for teachers to discuss these topics in a manner that is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
Despite the rhetoric, the law doesn’t prohibit children from talking to a teacher about their gay parents or transgender siblings or even their own feelings about these topics. What it doesn’t allow is for teachers to teach five- to eight-year-olds about these topics during school hours, to proactively bring up their own personal views or beliefs about these topics, inappropriately discuss topics like sex, genitalia, hormone treatments, and so forth with young children, or hide a young child’s concerns about these topics from their parents.
It won’t, and that’s what’s interesting. The law doesn’t alter the curriculum in any way, as sexual orientation and gender ideology were never part of the state curriculum in grades K-3. In reality, this bill actually bolsters the state’s existing education standards and curriculum guide by requiring teachers to stick to those guidelines and reminding everyone that children are at school to learn academic topics and that values-based and intimate topics are the purview of parents. It also ensures that parents are never kept in the dark about what their students are learning or how they are faring in their schooling.
This nickname was picked up by LBGT activists over a previous version of the bill that said schools could not “encourage classroom discussion” about sexual orientation in the youngest grades. These critics claimed this provision would ban children with homosexual parents from discussing their home lives. The law’s text has since been clarified to more clearly show that it bans “classroom instruction” or discussion in an age- or developmentally-inappropriate way about these topics.
Opponents of the law claim it will chill discussion between teachers and students about sexual orientation and gender identity and will criminalize speech. The law does not include any criminal penalties, though it does allow parents a process and ability to sue the school if they feel their parental rights have been violated under this law.
Critics also claim the law will hurt LGBTQ students by taking away their support, their right to speak confidentially with school counselors, and possibly outing their sexual preference or gender identity to their parents without the student’s knowledge or consent. They also claim, without evidence, that it will lead to suicides among LGBTQ students.
Those across the political and cultural spectrum have weighed in on this bill, beginning with President Joe Biden, who tweeted last month: “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community—especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill – to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
His press secretary Jen Psaki also weighed in with a tweet that asked, “Why are Florida leaders deciding they need to discriminate against kids who are members of the LGBTQI community? “Is it meanness? Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school?”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel said, “Laws around the country, including in Florida, have targeted and sought to bully some of our most vulnerable students and families and create division in our schools. My message to you is that this administration won’t stand for bullying or discrimination of any kind, and we will use our authorities to protect, support and provide opportunities for LGBTQI+ students and all students.”
Florida-based Disney, which faced a walkout last week by their own employees over the tepid response of executives to the bill, tweeted out a statement arguing that the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. 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.”
Amit Paley, CEO and executive director the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that works on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, said, “LGBTQ youth in Florida deserve better. They deserve to see their history, their families, and themselves reflected in the classroom. While I am saddened to see this harmful bill signed into law, I am inspired by the outpouring of support for LGBTQ students we have seen from parents, teachers, celebrities, and their peers. Social support is vital for suicide prevention, and I want to remind LGBTQ youth in Florida and across the country that you are not alone.”
Conservatives say that critics of the bill oftentimes haven’t even read the bill but are merely parroting the talking points of the LGBTQ movement. Rebecca Keltie, a Republican congressional candidate, tweeted, “Read the bill. It doesn’t ban anything. Not even student conversations.”
Some conservatives, including Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Gov. DeSantis, have pushed back on the “don’t say gay” narrative by re-nicknaming the legislation as the “anti-grooming bill.”
Kylee Zempel, assistant editor at the Federalist, wrote in an article that the LGBT movement and the media are using scare tactics and manipulation to obfuscate the fact the law’s only curriculum restriction involves children in kindergarten through the third grade. She said they don’t want people to know that “the kids in danger of prematurely learning about ‘tucking’ and ‘binding’ and gay sex are children who still have all their baby teeth and wear pull-ups to sleep. They’re kids who can’t get up from the dinner table until they eat five more bites of peas and who are tucked into bed and sound asleep by 8 p.m. They haven’t the faintest notions of puberty and no idea how mommy gets a baby in her belly.”
On signing the bill, DeSantis reiterated the support that the bill has among Floridians and that why the law is necessary. “Parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care and well-being of their children,” he said. “I don’t care what corporate media outlets say, I don’t care what Hollywood says, I don’t care what big corporations say — here I stand. I’m not backing down.”
In another speech before supporters, the governor pushed back on Disney by saying, “When you have companies that have made a fortune off being family friendly and catering to families and young kids, they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this (sexual topics and gender ideology) injected into their kid’s kindergarten classroom.”
They support it and by wide margins across all political parties. As an example, in a poll conducted by the Floridians for Economic Advancement that surveyed only Democrat primary voters, the majority of respondents said that they support the law, in part, because they don’t support teaching sexual and gender topics to young children; just 36 percent of respondents thought that teachers should teach such concepts.
In another poll conducted by the Daily Wire, more than 60 percent of Americans backed the law, including 62 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents, with no notable differences between race or age. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed who are also parents say that it’s inappropriate to teach young children about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Moreover, the poll found that 79 percent of Americans believe that parents should be responsible for teaching topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity, while just 7 percent believe that teachers should have that responsibility and 62 percent say that school officials have an obligation to inform parents when their children are identifying as a different gender at school.
Just like the Floridians for Economic Advancement poll, the Daily Wire poll is compelling because the majority of those surveyed were actually Democrats (37 percent), who are more likely to align with LGBTQ issues, while Republicans represented only 32 percent of respondents and Independents the remaining 31 percent.