TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and House Democrats on Tuesday spoke out against what they call "anti-LGBTQ bills" under consideration by the state's legislature.
Fried, who's running for governor, held the press conference Tuesday at the Florida Capitol — the morning before Florida lawmakers are set to consider the controversial 'parental rights' bill on the House floor.
House Bill 1557, or the "Parental Rights in Education" legislation, has been dubbed by critics as the "don't say gay" bill as it prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Fried denounced the bill and accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans of launching an "all-out culture war to play to their base in an election year."
"Unfortunately, the warnings of the harm done, both risking the mental and physical well-being of LGBTQ students, as well as taking away our constitutional right to freedom of speech appear to have fallen on deaf ears," she said.
The agriculture commissioner referred to the legislation as "state-sanctioned hatred and censorship."
State Rep. Michelle Rayner, who was born and raised in Pinellas County, joined Fried in her opposition to the bill. Rayner introduced herself as the "first openly Black LGBTQ woman to ever hold public office in the state of Florida."
"These bills are going to harm our children the most. There is a level of privilege that I have as a grown woman that I can navigate this bill and these things, but it's our children that do not have that privilege," Rayner said.
"If you're gonna pass these bills — and we understand they may pass — you're not gonna pass them without hearing from us," she added.
Nathan Bruemmer, the president and acting executive director of St Pete Pride, joined the news conference to share his experience as an advocate and educator for LGBTQ youth in the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida.
"These bills can save lives or cost lives. I hope all the legislators that hear all the debate today and every day forward will at least listen, talk to the communities you're serving. Because if we don't, access and opportunity of many will be overruled and outdone by the discomfort of just a few and that is not what will bring forward the very best of our Sunshine State," he said.
Proponents of the "Parental Rights in Education" legislation, which would bar primary schools from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity, argue it's not age-appropriate conversation for younger students.
"My purpose with this is to give, really, some relief to the school staff that they're not responsible for every issue in every person's life," said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said "I don’t want the schools to kind of be a playground for ideological disputes or to try to inject."
"At the end of the day, you know, my goal is to educate kids on the subjects —math, reading, science — all the things that are so important," the governor added at the time.
You can watch the full news conference below.