TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis added more wins to his agenda targeting the LGBTQ+ community as a state board approved an expansion of what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law Wednesday, and the House passed bills on gender-transition treatments, bathroom use and keeping children out of drag shows.
The Board of Education approved a ban on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, expanding the law that bans those lesson up to grade 3 at the request of DeSantis as he gears up for an expected presidential run.
The rule change would ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from grades 4-12, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take. That’s the time when students are becoming aware of their sexuality.
The proposal will take effect after a procedural notice period that lasts about a month, according to an education department spokesman.
The DeSantis administration put forward the proposal last month as part of the Republican’s aggressive conservative agenda, with the governor leaning heavily into cultural divides ahead of his looming White House candidacy.
He previously directed questions to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., who said it was meant to clarify confusion around the existing law and reinforce that teachers should not deviate from existing curriculums.
“We’re not removing anything here,” Diaz Jr. said on Wednesday. “All we are doing is we are setting the expectations so our teachers are clear: that they are to teach to the standards.”
The prohibition has drawn intense backlash from critics who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ+ people and has vague terms that result in self-censorship from teachers. Democratic President Joe Biden has called it “hateful.”
It’s not the only issue upsetting LGBTQ+ people in Florida. Also Wednesday, the House passed a bill to make it a felony to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors, another DeSantis priority.
“In the image of God, he created them. Male and female, he created them. Folks this is rock solid, irreversible, validated by science and our medical community. Period,” said Republican Rep. Chase Tramont. “You are either male or female. This is not subject to one’s opinion. It is demonstrable fact.”
Democrats argued that ignoring gender dysphoria in children can be psychologically harmful, They said parents and doctors should make decisions on treatment, not government.
“Trans people are already dealing with the feeling of not feeling wanted, not being accepted, not being loved, not belonging. Do we want to treat them like they are worthless?” said Democratic Rep. Marie Paule Woodson. “This is a territory that we have no right of stepping into.”
As they debated, a group of protesters shouted against bill sponsor Republican Rep. Randy Fine, chanting, “Racist, sexist, anti-queer, Randy Fine get out of here.”
“We know that these are all just part of the governor’s agenda to attack our community and to take rights away from people disguised under parents’ rights,” said Salvatore Vieira, a field manager for Equality Florida, who led the chants. “I fully believe in an equal and a beautiful Florida for everyone.”
The House sent DeSantis another bill that bans children from an adult live performance, a proposal aimed at the governor’s opposition to drag shows.
The legislation would allow the state to revoke the food and beverage licenses of businesses that admit children to adult performances. The DeSantis administration has moved to pull the liquor licenses of businesses that held drag shows, alleging children were present during lewd displays.
The House also passed a bill that will ban people from entering bathrooms other than their sex assigned at birth. It requires bathrooms in public places to be listed as Men, Women or Unisex.
DeSantis has made culture wars a priority as he gears up to run for the White House. Former President Donald Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls have been increasingly attacking DeSantis’ leadership, including an ongoing feud with Disney, one of the state’s largest employers and political donors.
The entertainment giant publicly opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation last year, and, as punishment, DeSantis pushed lawmakers to give him control of a self-governing district that Disney oversees in its theme park properties.
Before a set of new DeSantis appointees could assume control of the district, Disney’s board passed restrictive covenants that strip the incoming members of most of their powers, blunting the governor’s retaliation.
DeSantis has directed the chief inspector general to investigate the Disney board’s move and vowed to take additional revenge against the company through legislation.