TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary – on her personal Twitter account and during non-work hours – suggested that the bill critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay Bill" would be better labeled as an "Anti-Grooming Bill."
Equality Florida, a political advocacy group that promotes protections for the LGBTQ+ community, publicly condemned Christina Pushaw's comments and called on DeSantis to denounce her.
So, what exactly did Pushaw tweet?
There were two tweets within minutes of each other Friday evening that drew criticism. Both were sent from an iPhone.
"The bill that liberals inaccurately call 'Don’t Say Gay' would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill," Pushaw wrote at 6:16 p.m.
Seventeen minutes later, she replied with: "If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules."
Pushaw has built a brand doing what she describes as debunking "false narratives" about her boss and Florida. She does not hesitate to criticize media outlets – especially national ones when she feels the governor has been portrayed unfairly.
These particular tweets, however, struck a nerve with some members of the LGBTQ+ community who have lived through a history of hateful rhetoric in which certain anti-gay activists have tried to demonize the community by falsely associating gay people with child abuse in the United States.
"This is the same deeply bigoted language that has long been weaponized against LGBTQ people to justify discrimination & violence against us," Equality Florida tweeted.
State Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democratic lawmaker who is gay, called for Pushaw to resign.
"#DeSantis’ spokesperson openly accused opponents of #DontSayGay of being ‘groomers’— aka PEDOPHILES," Smith tweeted. "Bigoted attacks like this against LGBTQ people are the worst of the worst. They’re disgusting and dangerous and have NO PLACE in the Guv’s office."
To be clear: Pushaw did not use the term "pedophile," as several other Twitter users have asserted. But, critics like Smith, believe the implication of the "groomer" terminology is similar.
10 Tampa Bay reporter Liz Crawford, in an email, asked Pushaw if her personal tweets were reflective of the governor's sentiments on HB 1557, which is officially called the Parental Rights in Education Bill. Crawford also asked Pushaw to clarify what she meant by "grooming."
Pushaw's written response is below. We've included the entire statement:
"It’s inappropriate for adults to instruct children in VPK-3rd grade (ages 3-9) about sexuality. There is no good reason a teacher needs to talk to a 7 year old about sex, any questions a child has at that age should be addressed by their parent or guardian. Talking about adult topics with young children is a tactic of groomers, and as I said, not everyone who opposes the bill is a groomer — but they apparently don’t see a problem with adults instructing very young children about sexual topics. And sadly, that creates an environment where grooming can happen.
The governor has never referred to the bill as an anti-grooming bill or used that term. It was my personal account and I was tweeting off work hours. The governor in his statements about this legislation, has emphasized the importance of parental rights and making sure all instruction in our schools is developmentally appropriate. For ages 3-9, classroom instruction on sexual topics is not developmentally appropriate, and it’s difficult to understand why anyone would disagree."
What does the bill do?
10 Tampa Bay has reported extensively on HB 1557, explaining what it does and does not do. For instance, an amendment that spread like wildfire on social media, saying the legislation would force schools to "out" gay students to their parents, was withdrawn from consideration. So, some of what you're seeing in your Facebook timeline might not be accurate.
If fully passed and signed into law, the legislation would limit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity with children through the third-grade level or in any manner that is not "age-appropriate." You can read our full analysis here as part of our VERIFY segment.
When Gov. DeSantis spoke Monday at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, a reporter asked him about the bill. He pressed the reporter to explain what was in the bill and blasted the media for "pushing false narratives."
"It's why people don't trust people like you because you peddle false narratives, and so we disabuse you of those narratives. And we're gonna make sure that parents are going to be able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum," DeSantis said.