Florida Legislature Passes 'Don't Say Gay' Bill, Now Goes to Ron DeSantis

Florida's controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, which has gained the "Don't Say Gay" nickname through weeks of debate, is headed to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis after it was passed by the state's Senate on Tuesday.

Supporters and sponsors said the bill is written to stop teachers from teaching kindergarteners through third graders about sexual orientation or gender identity. However, it has gained national attention for its broad language that critics said could lead to students being punished for mentioning anything related to those topics in class, even if it's not related to what is being taught.

The bill passed the state House last month and saw over a dozen amendments fail to be added during its time in the Legislature, with some designed to lessen the impact of the bill and some to make the rules stricter.

One amendment that was eventually withdrawn would have required teachers to inform parents within six weeks of their child discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity in class, which was widely criticized for its potential to "out" students to their parents which, depending on the views of the parents, critics said could have led to abuse or neglect of the child.

Students across the state have walked out of schools in protest of the bill as it has made its way through the Legislature, which has led to the suspension of at least one student who organized such a protest.

"Let us be clear: should the vague language of this bill be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family, we will lead legal action against the state of Florida to challenge this bigoted legislation," LGBTQ rights organization Equality Florida said in a statement responding to the passage of the bill.

Controversy has continued to surround the bill, with DeSantis criticizing a reporter who referred to the bill by its "Don't Say Gay" nickname for "pushing false narratives" at a recent news conference.

Last week, DeSantis' press secretary Christina Pushaw sent several tweets that drew intense backlash attacking those who opposed the bill, comparing those who opposed the "anti-grooming bill" to those who groom children themselves.

"Grooming" is defined by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) as manipulations that a sexual "abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught."

Several lawmakers, including Representative Carlos Smith, an openly gay member of the Florida House, responded to Pushaw's tweet, calling on her to resign for effectively calling opponents to an already controversial piece of legislation pedophiles.

Smith was also a vocal critic of the legislation during House debate, telling other lawmakers that it would send the wrong message to children about what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community.

"We call it the 'Don't Say Gay' bill because it prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity," Smith said during House debate. "But members, this bill goes way beyond the text on the page. It sends a terrible message to our youth, that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction."

Controversy over the bill has also appeared outside of politics, as Disney, one of the most prominent companies with large investments in Florida through properties like Disney World, has been criticized for statements from its CEO Bob Chapek that haven't condemned the bill.

DeSantis has voiced his support for the bill in the past but has not stated publicly whether he will sign it.

Update 3/8/22 1:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and context.

Florida Don't Say Gay Senate Ron DeSantis
The Florida Senate passed the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill on Tuesday. Above, demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida Capitol on Monday in Tallahassee. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press