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A Leon parent backs DeSantis as he signs off on a bill that's stoked fears of outing LGBTQ kids

Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media

Governor Ron Desantis signed legislation Monday that bans the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-through-3 at an elementary school outside Tampa. It requires that instruction in other grade levels be “age-appropriate.” DeSantis says the law, dubbed by critics as the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, protects parental rights.

The bill has roots in a Leon County dispute between the district and a parent.

It requires school districts to notify parents of student requests to use different names or pronouns at school and allows parents to sue over violations. One such lawsuit against the Leon County School District is already underway.

During the bill signing ceremony Monday Tallahassee resident January Littlejohn said the middle school her child attended directed her child use a different gender pronoun at school without informing her or her husband.

“When parents are excluded from critical decisions affecting their child’s health and wellbeing at school, it sends the message to children that their parent’s input and authority is no longer important,” she said. 

The school district disputes Littlejohn’s claim and notes that the Littlejohns first made the district aware that the child was experiencing gender identity issues. The lawsuit against the district is pending and the LGBTQ activist group Equality Florida previously announced it will sue over the bill which goes into effect July 1.

DeSantis said the law will prevent schools from transitioning the genders of students without parental knowledge, which he called a national concern. Equality Florida said the governor's comments that accuse opponents of “sexualizing students” and “camouflaging their true intentions” should be denounced by both Republicans and Democrats.

"He has attacked parents and children in our state by invoking hateful anti-LGBTQ stereotypes all to pander to his right-wing base as he prepares to run for President in 2024," Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a statement blasting the governor for signing the legislation. He said Florida families have told him that the legislation doesn't represent their values.

"This comes at a time when we know lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students are three to four times more likely than non-LGBTQI+ students to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even self-harm," Cardona said in a statement, "not because of who they are but because of the hostility directed at them."

DeSantis and supporters of the legislation have faced pushback from Disney, parents and kids throughout the state, and celebrities on Saturday Night Live and even during the Oscars ceremony have lampooned the bill. DeSantis said he doesn't care about that criticism.

"I don’t care what Hollywood says," he said. "I don’t care what big corporations say. Here I stand.”

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.