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Disney-backed Florida legislator proposes major expansion of "Don't Say Gay" law
Florida schools are removing books with LGBTQ characters from libraries, taking down rainbow flags, and canceling LGBTQ History Month. This is all due to the infamous Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as "Don't Say Gay," signed into law by DeSantis last year. But for many Florida Republican officials, "Don't Say Gay" doesn't go far enough.
On Tuesday, Florida Representative Adam Anderson (R) introduced a bill that would, among other things, ban the use of pronouns that don’t align with a student’s or employee’s sex at birth. According to the bill, “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.”
Under the legislation, students cannot be asked for their pronouns and employees at schools cannot share with students their preferred pronouns. Additionally, students and employees alike can not be required to use another person’s preferred pronouns “if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to that person’s sex.”
The bill would also extend the ban on classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” through the eighth grade instead of the third grade. For grades 9 through 12, “instruction must be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” If passed, these measures will also apply to charter schools and all preschools. As was the case with the original mandate, this new bill does not define the terms “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate.”
In a December press conference, Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R) signaled support for expanding the "Don’t Say Gay" law to include additional grades. Passidomo also angrily denied that the intent of the law is to “get rid of LGBT protections” — rather, the senator believes, the bill is about “giv[ing] parents the right to be involved in the education of their children.”
House Speaker Paul Renner (R) also supports the new bill. “[Speaker Renner] will continue to champion the rights of parents, support policies that keep the focus on teaching our children the core educational skills, and push back against education activists who seek to sexualize and indoctrinate our children,” a spokesperson said.
But, as LGBTQ advocates note, phrases like “parental rights” and “indoctrination” have become dog whistles.
“This legislation is about a fake moral panic, cooked up by Gov. DeSantis to demonize LGBTQ people for his own political career,” Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer said. “Gov. DeSantis and the lawmakers following him are hellbent on policing language, curriculum, and culture. Free states don’t ban books or people.”
While Republican lawmakers focus on legislating pronouns, more than half of all Florida children live in or near poverty, according to I Am For Kids, a non-profit organization. Florida students also have the worst learning rate in the nation. Students “perform worse as they move up through the grades,” an indication that “there is consistent, massive systemic regression with age.”
DeSantis has yet to publicly support the new bill. The measure, if passed, would go into effect on July 1, 2023.
Disney financially supports Anderson, silent on "Don't Say Gay" expansion
Anderson was elected in 2022 with financial support from a number of corporate donors, including Disney. The company donated a total of $2,000 to Anderson on July 23, 2021, according to Florida campaign finance records.
Disney originally stayed silent on the original "Don't Say Gay" bill, but reversed course following protests from employees. In March 2022, former Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that Disney was opposed to the legislation and that he had expressed his opposition in a call to DeSantis. Chapek also released a statement that said the company would start “standing up for the rights of all” and promised to “combat similar legislation in other states.”
Disney also promised to change the criteria for their political giving, following a report by Popular Information that the company had donated nearly $300,000 to the supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill since 2020.
“We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values,” Chapek said in a statement, adding that the company was “pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”
After Disney’s publicly opposed to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis retaliated. In April 2022, DeSantis “direct[ed] lawmakers” to “dissolve Disney’s self-governing district” called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. On Monday, DeSantis signed the legislation into law, saying, “Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end… There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”
DeSantis celebrated his retribution against Disney on Tuesday in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, saying he punished Disney for trying "to advance a woke agenda."
These intimidation tactics may be working. Popular Information asked Disney if it supported Anderson's proposed expansion of the "Don't Say Gay" law or if it would continue to back Anderson financially. The company did not respond.
Since 2021, other corporate donors to Anderson include AT&T ($1,000), Duke Energy ($1,000), McGuireWoods ($1,000), NextEra Energy ($1,000), and Truist ($500).
The chaotic impact of the original "Don't Say Gay" law
Last year, DeSantis claimed the media promoted a "false narrative" about the original "Don't Say Gay" legislation, insisting the bill does not prohibit mentioning LGBTQ people in Florida schools. According to DeSantis, the impact of the bill was limited and only prohibits "sexual instruction" directed at young students. But now the law has gone into effect and the impact on Florida schools has been chaotic and far-reaching.
In Miami-Dade county, the school board voted against recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month, as it had done in the past. The board said the observance conflicted with the "Don't Say Gay" law. "My obligation as an elected school board member is one that has to comply with the law that has now changed," Steve Gallon, a school board member in Miami-Dade, said.
In Duval County, teachers were advised to remove "rainbow Safe Space stickers and posters that indicate LGBTQ allyship" from their classrooms. The county said it was necessary to comply with the "Don't Say Gay" law.
And, as Popular Information previously reported, the Don't Say Gay law is being used to justify the removal of books with LGBTQ characters from school libraries. Last month, Escambia County voted to ban And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins that raise a baby penguin together. “The fascination is still on those two male penguins," Escambia County school board member David Williams said. "So I’ll be voting to remove the book from our libraries.” In Duval County, school administrators have also removed numerous books with LGBTQ themes, including Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, Stonewall, 10,000 Dresses, and The Flag of Childhood, citing the "Don't Say Gay" law.