JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made banishing the “woke” agenda a top priority in his administration, is battling gay rights groups and one of the state’s largest employers in his latest effort — banning sex-ed from early elementary education.
Mr. DeSantis plans to sign the Parental Rights in Education bill, which cleared Florida’s Republican-led legislature last week in party-line votes after emotional debates in both chambers.
The legislation would prohibit schools from teaching about sexual orientation or sexual identity in kindergarten through third grade, or any other grade “in a manner not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate in accordance with state standards.”
The legislation responds to complaints from parents that schools are teaching children as young as 5 years old about being transgender, homosexuality and other matters related to sex and gender.
Critics of the bill have hijacked the narrative in mainstream media, relabeling the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and accusing Mr. DeSantis of trying to censor in-school discussion and recognition of LGBTQ issues.
The legislation has drawn the attention of LGBTQ groups nationwide, who are working to stop similar measures from becoming law in other states. The groups have held public demonstrations in Florida and attacked the legislation widely on social media as an anti-gay measure, ignoring the bill’s narrow application that bans any sex education for very young students.
“Saturday Night Live” recently dedicated a segment to mocking the bill, and one of the show’s stars lead the audience in a “gay” chant.
Mr. DeSantis is not bowing to public pressure.
He has vowed to sign the bill despite efforts from liberal groups and even top executives from Disney, who, under pressure from employees and others, protested the bill in a phone call with Mr. DeSantis.
“The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students, and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights, simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations,” Mr. DeSantis told a crowd in Boca Raton on Thursday. “The chances of that are zero.”
Mr. DeSantis did not only reject the pleas of Disney CEO Bob Chapek. The governor also took a public swing at the company, slamming one of Florida’s largest employers and tourist attractions for rejecting the values of many of the parents who attend the company’s massive theme parks with their young children, while accepting huge sums of money from business deals with China.
“You have companies like Disney, that are going to criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten or in first-grade classrooms,” Mr. DeSantis told the Boca Raton crowd. “If that’s the hill that they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship with the Communist Party of China?”
Mr. DeSantis is also battling media coverage of the legislation that appears to overwhelmingly embrace labeling by LGBTQ groups who oppose it. While “Don’t Say Gay” does not appear anywhere in the legislation, the vast majority of news stories about the measure use the phrase in headlines to describe the bill.
NBC News, CNN, USA Today, YouTube, NPR and many other media outlets called the bill “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in headlines.
The LGBTQ groups and liberal-leaning organizations have saturated the media with dire predictions about the bill if it is implemented in schools.
The gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign described the measure as a significant threat to educators and children.
“It would prevent teachers from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all,” HRC communications director Elizabeth Bibi wrote. “It would block teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids. This bill would also undermine existing protections for LGBTQ+ students.”
Mr. DeSantis this week excoriated a local Florida television reporter who asked the governor at a press conference if he planned to sign “what critics call the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”
The governor thrust his finger at the reporter and accused him of misleading the public about the legislation by parroting opponents of the bill.
“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, and so we disabuse you of those narratives,” Mr. DeSantis told the reporter. “We’re going to make sure that parents can send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into the school curriculum.”