- DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Act into law on Monday.
- Critics call it the "Don't Say Gay" bill because it limits teaching on sexual orientation.
- The law has drawn national backlash.
A controversial bill that would limit teachers' instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity is now law in Florida.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation on Monday, soon after the GOP-dominated legislature sent the bill to his desk. It's been called the "Don't Say Gay" bill by LGBTQ+ activists and Democrats, and President Joe Biden called it "hateful."
The legislation is officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill and is set to take effect on July 1. While defenders say it will apply only to teachers of students in kindergarten through third grade, critics say the bill may extend further because it contains ambiguous language banning such instruction "in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate."
DeSantis signed the bill publicly during a ceremony and press conference at a charter school in Spring Hill, Florida, saying there had been "a nationwide trend to cut parents' out of their children's education."
"In Florida, we not only know that parents have a right to be involved, we insist that parents have a right to be involved," said DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year, as he stood behind a lectern that read "Protect Children, Support Parents."
The legislation is considered part of a broader effort across the country to limit LGBTQ+ rights and protections and for Republicans to stoke their right-wing base ahead of elections in November. DeSantis, who is widely considered to be a top Republican contender for the presidency in 2024, said early on that he planned to support it.
Critics worry that LGBTQ+ students or children of families from same-sex households will be silenced in the classroom. The bill also allows parents to sue school districts that don't comply, and schools would have to pick up the costs.
Under the law, parents would have to be told what healthcare services a school offers, and they'd have the option to decline services. Schools would also have to send questionnaires or health screenings for K-3 students to parents first and get their permission to administer them.
Schools would have to notify parents if they changed any services related to a student's mental, emotional, or physical health, and the law would require schools to encourage students to discuss issues about their well-being with their parents or to facilitate those conversations.
LGBTQ+ advocates worry that the law may result in outing gay or transgender students to their parents and potentially endangering them. Studies showed that LGBTQ+ youth faced higher rates of suicide compared to their cisgender or straight peers.
This parental-notification requirement could also extend to other circumstances, including depression and substance use, and might cause students to avoid seeking help from school counselors.
Another section of the bill would allow school staff to opt out of notifying parents if they were concerned about "abuse, abandonment, or neglect."
Just over half of voters supported provisions of the Florida law to limit instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation among young children, a Morning Consult/Politico poll released in mid-March found, though 40% supported allowing parents to sue school districts over violating the policy.
The Florida legislation has gained nationwide backlash and even became a punchline during Sunday's Oscars.
"We're going to have a great night tonight," said Wanda Sykes, one of the hosts, during the show's opening monologue. "And for you people in Florida, we're going to have a gay night."
DeSantis punched back at the remarks during his press conference.
"If the same Hollywood elites who upheld degenerates like Harvey Weinstein now oppose our efforts to protect parental rights, I wear that like a badge of honor," he said.
He accused his critics of supporting "a lot of the things" that the bill was meant to provide protections against, such as "sexualizing kids in kindergarten" and "injecting woke gender ideology into second-grade classrooms."
Manny Diaz, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said the bill's signing into law represented a "sad day in Florida."
"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," Diaz said in a statement.
Disney employees staged a walkout on March 22 in protest of CEO Bob Chapek's response to the bill as it made its way through the legislature. As a result of the dispute, last week the Democratic Party of Florida reversed its plans to host its biggest fundraiser of the year at Disney World.
Disney issued a statement on Monday that said the bill "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 by the courts," the Walt Disney Company said.
Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in hopes of unseating DeSantis, promised in a video posted to Twitter that he would work to repeal the law if elected.
"It puts LGBTQ children at risk," he said. "It's not fair to them."
—Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) March 28, 2022
Nikki Fried, Florida's agricultural commissioner, is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and criticized DeSantis over the measure.
"When Gov. DeSantis and our Republican legislature try to edit and censor our teachers, no good can come from it," she said.