• Matt Lavietes, NBC News

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signals support for 'Don't Say Gay' bill

The bill, which would bar the 'discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity' in primary schools, passed the Florida Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voiced his support for a bill that would prohibit the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's primary schools.


Asked by reporters at a Miami event Monday, he said it was "entirely inappropriate" for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity, citing instances of them telling children, “Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet," and also "hiding" classroom lessons from parents.


“Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write,” DeSantis said. “They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics and understanding of the U.S. Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic stuff.”


"The larger issue with all of this is parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what's going on in their schools," he added.


Although DeSantis stopped short of committing to sign the bill into law, it was the first time the Republican governor signaled his support for the measure since it was proposed by the state's House of Representatives last month.


Echoing DeSantis, proponents of the Parental Rights in Education bill — dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill — argue that discussions about LGBTQ issues are "not age-appropriate" for students.


And following the governor’s comments, a nearly identical state Senate version of the bill passed Florida’s Senate Education Committee on Tuesday along party lines.


But the measure's opponents contend the bill would be detrimental to the mental health of the state's LGBTQ children and teachers, preventing them from openly talking about themselves and their families.


"Make no mistake — this is not an isolated action. Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be," a White House spokesperson said in a statement. "This is politics at its worse, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare."


Jennifer Solomon, a South Florida resident who has LGBTQ children, reiterated the White House's sentiment.


“Parental rights? Whose parental rights? Only parental rights if you’re raising a child according to DeSantis?" she said. "DeSantis tries to paint this picture that every family is this 1950s mom and dad with two kids and a cat and dog. That is not what Florida looks like; that is not what the country looks like.”


Solomon said her 11-year-old son, Cooper, who identifies as male and has "never wanted to be a girl," however prefers to wear his school's girls uniform and enjoys dressing up like a fairytale princess for fun.


She contends that if the measure becomes law, her son will be protected because their Miami Dade County is relatively accepting of LGBTQ people. However, Solomon — who attended a protest against the bill last week in Wilton Manors, a gay enclave about 30 miles north of Miami — worries for families living in Florida's rural communities.


"There could be a family just like mine that is going to have to go back in the closet," she said. "They're going to have to tell their child, 'I'm sorry, you can dress the way you want to at home, but you have no protections at school, and so you can't be your authentic self all of the time.' That's very damaging to a child."


Speaking up against the bill last month, Chasten Buttigieg, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's husband and a former teacher, pointed to the disproportionate rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youths.


A 2021 survey by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, found that 42 percent of more than 35,000 LGBTQ youths surveyed seriously considered attempting suicide last year.


State Rep. Joe Harding, the Republican who introduced the bill, said during a committee hearing last month that the measure would not prevent students from discussing their families, according to WFLA-TV, an NBC affiliate in Tampa. He added that teachers would not be prohibited from lessons on LGBTQ history, including discussing the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.


But some LGBTQ advocates are not placated.


Slamming DeSantis on Monday, the advocacy group Equality Florida argued that he is "using anti-LGBTQ legislation as a springboard to serve his national political ambitions."


"His political agenda is driven not by the real pressing needs of our state but his desire to peel away Trump supporters as the two jockey for the 2024 GOP presidential primary," the group wrote on Twitter. "He is willing to inflict harm on the most vulnerable in FL in order to shore up his extremist base."


Four states — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi — have laws similar to the proposed Florida measure, according to GLSEN, a nonprofit group that advocates for LGBTQ students. And, according to GLSEN, three states — Arkansas, Tennessee and Montana — passed bills last year that would allow parents to opt students out of any lessons or coursework that mention sexual orientation or gender identity.


Simultaneously, seven states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon — have laws that require the curriculum to be inclusive of LGBTQ people, according to the advocacy group.


Cooper Solomon thinks that lawmakers like DeSantis are advocating for legislation like the "Don't Say Gay" bill "because they were born in another time."


"I guess back then, a long time ago, they didn’t accept this and they thought it was really bad," the fifth grader told NBC News. "I would just like them to know that it’s OK to be like this, and it’s not going to hurt anyone.”

 

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