DeSantis Signs “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” Bill

Conservative activists and elected officials from across United States attend CPAC 2022, in Orlando
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is barring discussions of LGBTQ people in classrooms.
REUTERS/Octavio Jones

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the state’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill into law on March 28, effectively banning discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

The bill, HB 1557, explicitly bans LGBTQ-related rhetoric from kindergarten through third grade — but it also features vague language barring conversations that are not “age appropriate” in schools, raising questions about how far the law could be stretched. The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, though it is expected to face legal challenges.

Moreover, the legislation calls for parents are to be notified when students have any changes to their physical, mental, or physical health — which is particularly problematic for students who are not in a position to share such information with their families. The law will also be able to sue school districts for violating it.

Protests against the legislation have erupted across Florida and many students have participated in walkouts, but the DeSantis administration has aggressively pushed back against critics with deeply offensive rhetoric. The governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, peddled longstanding false stereotypes about queer people when she described the measure as an “anti-grooming bill.” During a speech just two weeks before the bill was signed, DeSantis remained defiant as he ramped up his nonsensical rhetoric, saying, “We are not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten.”

At a press conference on March 28, DeSantis complained of kindergarten students being taught that they can be “whatever they want to be,” which he said is not appropriate “for any place, but especially not in Florida.”

Advocates swiftly condemned DeSantis after he signed the bill. Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings cited research from the Trevor Project showing that suicide risk among LGBTQ teens drops by 23 percent when youth have LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in schools.

“LGBTQ+ youth deserve the same things that all young people deserve: To be seen, to be heard, and to be respected,” Jennings said. “Schools and curriculums that are inclusive of all young people and their families literally save lives.”

Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, slammed DeSantis for advancing false narratives about LGBTQ individuals to justify the legislation.

“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,” Smith said in a written statement. “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.”

Democrats who campaigned against the bill expressed frustration after it was signed into law. Out gay Florida State Representative Carlos G. Smith said DeSantis is working to “censor and exclude an entire community of people from our public schools” for his own political gain.

“This law doesn’t solve any problem that exists,” Smith said in a written statement. “Instead, HB 1557 has been weaponized by the governor’s office to launch a bigoted smear campaign to attack and defame LGBTQ Floridians with baseless accusations of grooming and pedophilia”

Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book emphasized the negative impact the bill will have across the state.

“This does nothing to address the issues hurting Florida’s families,” Book said in a written statement. “Not only will teachers be punished, and school boards mired in needless litigation for allowing classroom discussion about a student’s own family structure, but children with LGBTQ+ family members will be shunned and shamed by the very institutions that protect them. It is a disgrace that supporters of the bill blatantly ignore the will of the people while cultivating a police state void of any trust in our teachers.”

In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul blasted DeSantis for using the legislation as a tool to fire up his base.

“Every student deserves a governor who will stand up for and protect their right to live fully as themselves — not this cruel and shameful political stunt designed to hurt the LGBTQ+ community.”

DeSantis, a longtime foe of LGBTQ rights, has repeatedly stood against the queer community during his time in office. Last year he kicked off Pride Month by signing an anti-trans sports bill into law before vetoing funding for LGBTQ initiatives in the state.