Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ comments signaling support for “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida that would restrict school teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-5 education, the White House has denounced the bill as a measure “designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.”
A White House spokesperson on Tuesday blasted Florida’s HB 1557/SB 1834, which critics say is the latest in an attempt by conservatives to erase LGBTQ visibility in schools.
“Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom,” the White House spokesperson said. “Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”
After a Florida House committee approved the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation last month, DeSantis – widely seen as a possible Republican candidate for president in 2024 – signaled support for the legislation, telling reporters on Monday it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity.
“Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write,” DeSantis said, according to NBC News. “They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics and understanding of the U.S. Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic stuff.”
DeSantis, however, stopped short of committing to signing the legislation into law should it reach his desk, according to NBC News.
Critics say the legislation effectively stigmatizes LGBTQ families and students in schools and is part of a wider effort by conservatives to stymy visibility of LGBTQ people. Texas libraries, for example, have been banning books with LGBTQ material and sexually explicit content.
Defenders of the legislation have pointed out the restrictions in the “Don’t Say Gay” bill apply only to grade school, which they say isn’t an age-appropriate forum for discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity and leaves open the possibility of discussion in higher education.
The White House spokesperson said the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” legislation is “not an isolated action” and part of a broader movement throughout the country.
“Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be,” the White House spokesperson said. “This is politics at its worst, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare. At every step of the way, Republicans have peddled in cheap, political attacks, instead of focusing on the issues parents, students, and teachers care about.”
The Biden administration, the White House spokesperson said, has instead “focused on keeping schools open, providing resources to combat learning loss, and supporting students’ mental health.”
“The difference in leadership could not be more stark, and the Biden-Harris administration will not shy away from holding leaders accountable for dangerous actions that hurt our nation’s students,” the White House spokesperson said.
The White House spokesperson drew a contrast between the message sent by the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the Biden administration to LGBTQ students.
“Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence,” the spokesperson said. “These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that LGBTQI+ people face. The president wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone because of these legislative attacks to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve.”