Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared Monday to voice support for a controversial state bill that would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
DeSantis, a Republican, said it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identity, saying that, in some schools, children are told “Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.” DeSantis, though, also acknowledged, “I don’t think it’s happening here in large numbers.”
“Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write,” the governor said at a press event Monday. “They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics and understanding of the US Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic things.”
It’s the first time DeSantis has publicly signaled support for an effort by state Republican lawmakers to shut down certain conversations in schools about sexual orientation and gender identity. Though he didn’t directly say whether he would sign the bill if it reached his desk when asked about it Monday, DeSantis’ remarks appeared to strongly suggest he is supportive.
According to the legislation, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, school districts “may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It is not clear what would be considered “age” or “developmentally” appropriate.
Despite fierce opposition from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, the bill is gaining momentum in the Florida Legislature and is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of Senate Education Committee. A House version of the bill already received a favorable vote from its Education Committee in January.
Opponents of the bill warn that it would lead to further stigmatization of gay, lesbian and transgender children, causing more bullying and suicides within an already marginalized community. They say the bill would eliminate LGBTQ history from the curriculum and prevent teachers from having discussions with their classrooms if questions about sexual orientation and gender identity come up.
Supporters of the bill say the moratorium is directed at school districts, and it would not prevent teachers from having those conversations if they arise. Nor, they say, would it prevent same-sex parents from participating in classroom activities or keep teachers from sponsoring gay lesbian alliance clubs.
Under the measure, parents would be able to sue school districts if they suspect a violation.
The language addressing sexual orientation and gender identity is part of a larger bill that seeks to keep parents informed about developments in the school lives of their kids.
The bill would ban schools from adopting procedures that could lead to school district personnel withholding information about a child’s mental, emotional or physical health.
DeSantis said the goal is to create transparency for parents.
“You have politicians saying parents have no role in the education of their kids. Give me a break,” he said. “We want parents to be able to have access to what’s going on in the classroom.”