Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that limits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade in the state's public schools.
DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law at a school in Spring Hill. The bill passed a Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this month.
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said as he and other speakers stood at a podium affixed with a placard reading "Protect Children/Support Parents."
The bill 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.” Parents would be able to sue districts over violations.
The measure, dubbed by activists the "Don't Say Gay" bill, has drawn intense opposition from LGBTQ advocates, students, national Democrats, the White House and the entertainment industry.
Disney's CEO said earlier this month that the company was pausing all political donations in Florida in response to the bill. The hosts of Sunday night's Academy Awards commented on the bill during the opening monologue.
DeSantis said he wasn't swayed by the outcry against the bill.
"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," DeSantis said.
Democrats have often said the bill’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age appropriate,” could be interpreted broadly enough that discussion in any grade could trigger lawsuits from parents and therefore could create a classroom atmosphere where teachers would avoid the subjects.
“The bill’s intentionally vague language leaves teachers afraid to talk to their students and opens up school districts to costly and frivolous litigation from those seeking to exclude LGBTQ people from any grade level,” said state Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democrat who is gay. “Even worse, #DontSayGay sends a hateful message to our most vulnerable youth who simply need our support.”
Statewide, the bill has sparked a swell of protests and student walkouts. Dozens of students and advocates flooded committee rooms during the proposal’s early stages and then packed into the halls of the legislature as it moved toward final passage, often with chants of “We say gay!”
Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the measure, and other GOP lawmakers in Florida have argued that parents should be broaching these subjects with their children, rather than educators. It would not bar spontaneous discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools but instead is intended to prevent districts from integrating the subjects into official curriculum, Harding and supporters have said.
DeSantis has chafed at calling the proposal the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because he said it would apply to instruction on any gender identity or sexual orientation. He said it was inappropriate for teachers to discuss those issues with children in kindergarten through third grade.