President Joe Biden on Tuesday took the rare step of weighing in on a controversial Florida bill that would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, telling LGBTQ kids that he has their back.
“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,” Biden tweeted Tuesday evening.
The message from the White House on Tuesday condemning Republicans for advancing the bill was a rare step as Biden and his aides called the bill part of a larger trend of GOP leaders across the country taking actions to treat students like political pawns.
Republicans in Florida have advanced legislation, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that states 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. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to voice support for the measure on Monday.
The legislation would hurt kids who need the most protection in school and are “already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves,” said Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary, in a statement.
“But make no mistake – this is not an isolated action. Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be,” Munoz added. “This is politics at its worse, cynically treating our students as pawns in a game and not people who deserve love and respect. At every step of the way, Republicans have peddled in cheap, political attacks, instead of focusing on the issues parents, students, and teachers care about.”
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 in their classrooms if questions about sexual orientation and gender identity came up.
Supporters of the bill say the moratorium is directed at school districts and that it would not prevent teachers from having those conversations if they arose. Nor, they say, would it prevent same-sex parents from participating in classroom activities or keep teachers from sponsoring gay-lesbian alliance clubs.
Despite fierce opposition from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, the bill is gaining momentum in the Florida Legislature, advancing in Tuesday’s meeting of the state Senate Education Committee. A House version of the bill received a favorable vote from its Education Committee in January.
On Monday, DeSantis said it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identities, 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.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the White House decided to take the rare step of condemning the bill in order to make a statement.
“Every parent, as one myself too, hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection and freedom, and today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support, support the most, kids from the LGBTQI+ community, who are already vulnerable to bullying – and we’ve seen that in study after study – and violence, just for being themselves and just for being who they are,” Psaki told reporters.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on CNN Wednesday slammed the bill, calling it dangerous legislation that harms LGBTQ youth and families.
“It tells youth who are different or whose families are different that there’s something wrong with them out of the gate and I do think that contributes to the shocking levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
This story has been updated with further developments.
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.