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DeSantis signs controversial 'Parental Rights' bill that restricts LGBTQ topics in school

The newly-signed law will take effect on July 1.

SPRING HILL, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis put pen to paper, signing into law a divisive bill that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.

The governor signed HB 1557 Monday 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, officially called the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, has been dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill because it bars educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade. School districts may opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.

However, according to DeSantis, the 'Don't Say Gay' designation is a result of "sloganeering" by critics, activists, corporate media and "leftist politicians" to further incorrect narratives.

The governor shared examples from around the country in which he said schools taught material about "sexuality and woke gender ideology" to young kids. Two parents also joined DeSantis to share experiences in which they felt Florida schools taught their kids material relating to gender identity without their knowledge.

"This is part of a national trend to cut parents out of their child'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," DeSantis said.

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.

Ahead of the bill's signing Monday, a couple of people were seen outside protesting the legislation.

Long before the signing of the bill, DeSantis indicated support for the legislation.

"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 said during a February press conference. "I don’t want the schools to kind of be a playground for ideological disputes or to try to inject."

Those who oppose the legislation fear it will marginalize the LGBTQ community.

While the bill was going through the Florida Legislature, Jennifer Soloman, who lives in South Florida and has LGBTQ children, expressed concern to NBC News about the impact this could have.

“Parental rights? Whose parental rights? Only parental rights if you’re raising a child according to DeSantis?" Soloman told NBC. "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.”

HB 1557's 41-word section about sexual orientation and gender identity has drawn the most attention. The full bill is seven pages long and spells out new levels of parental authority over what happens in the classroom. For instance, the bill would require schools to notify parents if educators noticed any major changes in their child's health or welfare. 

It also allows parents to sue the school if they think procedures infringe on their rights to raise their own child. Democratic lawmakers have argued the bill's language is vague and creates a burden for school districts. And union leaders have warned the legislation could push teachers out of the state and pit them against parents.

Many opponents of the passage about sexual orientation and gender identity view the bill as both a solution without a problem and a law that could lead to discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, they use the aforementioned "Don't Say Gay" terminology to describe the bill, a title that has bothered the governor's office.

"Does it say that in the bill?" DeSantis asked a reporter earlier in March while criticizing the media's coverage of the legislation.

While the word "gay" does not appear in the legislation, opponents have argued the impact is the same. Students have walked out of classrooms in protest of the legislation and have suggested lawmakers are trying to silence LGBTQ+ voices.

"If we don't start at these younger grades with embracing our identities and letting it be known that these people exist, and we're OK, and we shouldn't be ostracized from society then we're going to see this regression," 17-year-old Jack Petocz, an openly-gay student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, previously told WESH-TV.

Equality Florida, a political advocacy group that promotes protections for the LGBTQ+ community, publicly condemned DeSantis' press secretary, Christina Pushaw, earlier in March after she used her personal Twitter account during non-work hours to suggest that the bill would best be labeled as an "Anti-Grooming Bill."

"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," Pushaw tweeted at the time. "Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules."

Those tweets 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.

In response to Pushaw's remarks at the time, State Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democratic lawmaker who is gay, called for her 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."

President Joe Biden condemned an earlier version of the bill, tweeting, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

According to the legislative analysis of the bill, "multiple school districts in Florida maintain policies that exclude parents from discussions and decisions on sensitive topics relating to students."

The 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.

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