Surrounded by a collection of charter school students, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Act, into law on March 28. While the legislation never mentions the words “Don’t say gay,” the negative publicity around that erroneous phrase pulled in nationwide condemnation from LGBTQ activists. Among other requirements, the law prohibits teaching K-3 students about sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill aligns with the Republican message that Democrats seem willing to threaten the innocence of children to advance progressive policies.
Muzzled From Inappropriate Speech
The bill is brief and contains only a few components. The one that seems to have drawn the attention of detractors is the muzzle placed on teachers. It’s true that this legislation prevents educators from instructing K-3 kids on sexual orientation or gender identity “that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” When you read the text, however, you see the devil is in the details. It is not that teachers are unable to discuss such issues with the children in their care, but rather that they are not permitted to instigate lessons on the topic as part of the curriculum. Nothing in the bill indicates that teachers are unable to respond to questions from the students themselves.
The author of the counterfactual name “Don’t Say Gay” is Equality Florida, an LGBTQ civil rights group. After the bill signing, Equality Florida tweeted, “This law won’t stand & we will work to see it removed either by the courts as unconstitutional or repealed by the FL Leg [legislature].”
The Big Mouse Disapproves
The Walt Disney Company, one of Florida’s largest employers, joined in, too. Its statement on the legislation mirrored Equality Florida’s: “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.” Conservative Disney employees published an open letter opposing Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s orders that the publicly-traded company support progressive causes, writing:
“The Walt Disney Company has come to be an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive. We watch quietly as our beliefs come under attack from our own employer, and we frequently see those who share our opinions condemned as villains by our own leadership …
“Disney is far more important and impactful to the world by avoiding politics than it will ever be by embracing a political agenda. By focusing on entertainment that inspires us with stories of universal appeal, we are doing good in the world.”
The campaign against the bill depended largely on the public’s ignorance of the content of the legislation. DeSantis made headlines earlier this month when he challenged a reporter who asked about the bill using the “Don’t Say Gay” slogan. The governor responded: “The idea that you wouldn’t be honest about that and tell people what it actually says, it’s why people don’t trust people like you because you peddle false narratives.”
Absent any delays initiated by court challenges, the law is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2022.
~ Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.