TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Equality Florida was swift to denounce Gov. Ron DeSantis' signing of the controversial "Parental Rights" bill into law Monday, calling the event a "dark day" for the LGBTQ community.
The largest civil rights organization in Florida, dedicated to securing equality for those identifying as LGBTQ+, held a press conference to condemn the governor's actions, with some calling him a "coward" for signing HB 1557 at a charter school.
"Let's be clear, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill in the most cowardly way possible today. He hid his agenda from the media and the public until the last moment, skulking onto a charter school campus that is exempt from the law and away from students who would protest his presence," Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders said.
It's a sentiment Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Council Kate Oakley shared, saying it was "deeply disappointing" that DeSantis "hid away" to sign the bill.
The bill has been dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics because it bars educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade. The governor signed the bill into law at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill.
"In Florida, we will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination," DeSantis said during the news conference.
The legislation still allows for the discussion of LGBTQ topics should they spontaneously come up in the classroom, said Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the House’s version of the bill, in a committee meeting before the bill was passed. But opponents argue the new law will have a chilling effect on conversations in the classroom.
According to Saunders, the law stigmatizes the LGBTQ community, chills efforts to create inclusive school environments and isolates LGBTQ young people. He adds that he finds DeSantis' actions have damaged Florida's reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place for all families and made schools less safe for children.
"Equality Florida will defend the rights of all students to have a healthy environment to learn and to thrive and for all parents to know their families are included and respected," Saunders said.
The organization is poised to work to have the law removed by the courts or repealed in the Florida Legislature. The Human Rights Campaign is ready too, according to Oakley.
"Every single day that this law is on the books it hurts LGBTQ people," she said.
The two groups were joined by activists and LGBTQ lawmakers who claim the bill is an effort to exclude or censor the community.
"By signing 'Don't Say Gay' into law, DeSantis is attempting to censor and exclude an entire community of people from our public schools for his own political gain." Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said.
Smith is the first openly-gay Latino lawmaker elected to the Florida Legislature.
"If you do not look like Ron DeSantis, if you do not love like Ron DeSantis, if you do not think like him and if you do not have the financial wherewithal that he does, your life doesn't matter," Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby added.
In its final form that was signed into law, Florida's "Parental Rights" bill does not give schools the ability to “out” LGBTQ students who confide in staff about their sexual orientation or identity, but schools are required to notify parents about any change to their child's “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” There are exceptions if there are concerns disclosing that information could result in abuse or neglect.
Schools also are not required to inform parents if another student in their child’s class is gay.
The law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2022.
Other notable organizations, companies, leaders and elected officials have also released statements denouncing the governor's putting pen to paper to sign the bill.
President Joe Biden:
"Every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom. Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve to be affirmed and accepted just as they are. My Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country."
Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz:
“It is a sad day in Florida. Make no mistake, by signing the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, Ron DeSantis is taking the side of hatred, bullying, and discrimination and sending a clear message to children in Florida that he doesn’t care about them or their families if he can use their pain to score political points with his base. Florida’s families deserve leaders who will stand up for them and give them the freedom to be proud of who they are.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona:
“By signing this bill, Gov. DeSantis has chosen to target some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families, all while under the guise of 'parents' rights.' Make no mistake: this is a part of a disturbing and dangerous trend across the country of legislation targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals. This comes at a time when we know lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students are three to four times more likely than non-LGBTQI+ students to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even self harm – not because of who they are but because of the hostility directed at them. I’ve spoken to parents and families in Florida and they’ve consistently told me that this legislation doesn’t represent them or what they stand for. Instead of telling some students or families it’s not okay to be who they are, our Department is fighting for dignity and opportunity for every student and family. We will continue to prioritize getting billions of dollars of American Rescue Plan funds into schools and classrooms across the country to support the mental health and academic needs of students, educators, and families. And, we will be monitoring this law upon implementation to evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law. As always, any student who believes they are experiencing discrimination, including harassment, at school or any parent who is concerned that about their child experiencing discrimination can file a complaint with our Office for Civil Rights.”
The Walt Disney Co.:
"Florida's HB 1557, also known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country."
Florida Education Association:
“Parents are central to their children’s education, and that was true long before the governor signed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ into law. Parents, teachers, school staff and administrators are part of the same team. We all want to make sure each student gets the education they deserve and need, regardless of that child’s race, background, ZIP code or ability.”
“This law is a political stunt meant to divert attention from the real needs of our students. Our kids need teachers and staff. Florida has a huge shortage of both. The governor and lawmakers should be focused on how to retain and recruit more educators for our public schools.”