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With a flick of a pen, DeSantis ups the stakes in fight over new LGBTQ, parents rights law

 Opponents of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill rally in January, 2022 at the capitol.
Sarah Mueller
Opponents of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill rally in January, 2022 at the capitol.

LGBTQ students, parents and teachers say they’re already feeling the chill from legislation they call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the new law this week.

Imani Rupert-Gordon is the executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights - one of the parties to the lawsuit. She says the bill is unconstitutional because it violates Title IX, the First Amendment, and both the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses in the Constitution.

“And this law would roll back the decades of progress that we’ve been able to make in schools, making it safer for LGBTQ students.”

Governor Ron DeSantis signed the legislation, formally titled Parental Rights in Education earlier this week.

It bans lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K through 3rd. In other grades, discussions must be conducted in an “age-appropriate” manner. These terms are not defined in the law.

It also requires school districts to notify parents if their children want to use different names or pronouns at school and allows parents to sue school districts for withholding information from them regarding their child's health and wellbeing.

DeSantis says Democrats and critics such as those in the LGBTQ community support indoctrinating children.

“They support sexualizing kids in kindergarten; they support injecting woke ideology into second-grade classrooms; they support enabling schools to quote 'transition' students to a quote 'different gender' without the knowledge of the parent, much less without the parent’s consent,” he said.

LGBTQ students, parents, and teachers say they’re already feeling a chilling effect from what they call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the new law this week.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, says gender identity and sexual orientation are not about sex.

“If they want to prohibit instruction on sex ed for certain grades, then do that, but that’s not what this bill is about," he said. "This bill puts a target on the back of LGBTQ Floridians and it sends a terrible message that there’s something dangerous about including LGBTQ Floridians in the classroom.”

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes attempted to amend the legislation in a February committee hearing to remove gender identity or sexual orientation and ban teaching human sexuality or sexual activity in grades K-3 instead.

“We have the opportunity to soften this, to accomplish both goals," he said at the time, "to ensure that these conversations are had at home and also to not impact our neighbors in the way that today you’ve seen them impacted.”

Brandes said his amendment failed because DeSantis’ office wanted the words gender identity and sexual orientation to stay in the bill. His subsequent amendment banning human sexuality and gender identity and sexual orientation failed to garner Republican support.

Brandes was in touch with Disney lobbyists during that time. The company has faced backlash from the left and its employees for not doing more to oppose the legislation. Disney put out a statement after Gov. DeSantis signed the bill promising to work to repeal it.

That’s drawn criticism from Gov. DeSantis for being what he calls a “woke” corporation.

“I think that crossed a line. This state is governed by the people of the state of Florida," DeSantis said. "It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.”

DeSantis is also calling for Disney to lose its special privileges status dating back to the late 1960's which allowed it to form its own independent government. Lawmakers also exempted the theme park from social media legislation they passed last year. Some Republicans are now calling for a repeal of that carve-out.

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.