Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a Republican-backed bill that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students, drawing swift criticism from companies, Democrats and advocacy groups.
The legislation, referred to by its opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill, has stirred national controversy and got attention during Sunday’s Oscars telecast amid an increasingly partisan debate over what schools should teach children about race and gender.
Formally called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, the Florida measure bars classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade, or from about ages 5-9, in public schools.
It also prohibits such teaching that “is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for students in other grades.
Under the law, which takes effect on July 1, parents will be allowed to sue school districts they believe to be in violation.
“We will continue to recognize that in the state of Florida, parents have a fundamental role in the education, healthcare and well being of their children,” DeSantis told reporters on Monday. “I don’t care what big corporations say, here I stand. I’m not backing down.”
DeSantis, who is seeking re-election this year and is widely considered to be running for president in 2024, has joined other Republicans nationwide in calling for parents to have more control of what young children learn in school.
The Republican governor signed the bill into law at a charter school in Spring Hill, north of Tampa, surrounded by young school children and parents who shared personal stories they said showed the new law is needed.
Students across Florida have protested the measure, and President Joe Biden previously called it “hateful.”
The hosts of the Oscars ceremony referenced the bill, while best actress winner Jessica Chastain in her acceptance speech denounced “discriminatory and bigoted” legislation sweeping the country.
After DeSantis signed the bill on Monday, a Walt Disney Co spokesperson said the legislation “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is the company’s largest theme park. Its sprawling businesses also include movie studios, broadcast and cable television networks, streaming services, cruise lines and retail products.
Civil rights group Lambda Legal said it would challenge the law in court. “Our young people are not political pawns,” Chief Executive Kevin Jennings said in a statement.
The legislation has been criticized for the vagueness and complexity of some of its language. For example, it says that even discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited “in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”
The Florida Education Association, a teachers union, called the law a “political stunt” vulnerable to legal challenges.