On March 28th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, titled Parental Rights in Education, into law, sparking a firestorm of both support and condemnation across social media.
Right-wing pundits praised the new law as a necessary bulwark against the perceived the sexual indoctrination of children, while their counterparts on the Left criticized DeSantis and Florida Republicans, calling them bigoted and trans-phobic. National media named HB 1557 the “don’t say gay bill,” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki labeled the bill “misinformed and hateful.”
You can read the full text of the bill here, but for the sake of time, let us take a look at what this law does and does not say via a focused reading. “Don’t say gay” may be an effective marketing strategy on Twitter, but the word ‘gay’ does not appear once in the seven page bill.
As described by the Florida State Senate’s Education Committee, this new law, which goes into effect on July 1st, “reinforces a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care and upbringing of his or her child in the public school setting…All procedures adopted under the bill must require school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues related to his or her well-being with his or her parent.” Transparency being a core goal of Florida’s law, we should be transparent when representing it, so here’s the verbatim statutory language on this point:
“A school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”
The law will also ban the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity for students in 3rd grade or younger. Which, on its face, isn’t very controversial. On this point, the actual statutory language says this:
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Several partisan bills have been signed into law recently that can be described as “red meat” bills, that excite the base of each political party, from the constitutional carry bill recently signed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, to a bill signed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis that guarantees on demand abortion up to the point of birth. It is unusual that a relatively benign bill preventing the teaching of sex to prepubescent children would generate the level of animosity usually reserved for issues like gun control and abortion. Surely, the obfuscation of the bill’s language in corporate media coverage has contributed to the online outrage.
When Americans read the text of this new Florida law, or hear accurate reportage of the law’s effects, they tend to support it. According to a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, 61% of voters support the law with only 26% opposing it. Surprisingly, when given accurate information on Parental Rights in Education, 55% of registered Democrats support the law, with 29% in opposition. Parents support the law 67% to 24%, and respondents who personally know someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ support the law 61% to 28%.
The law’s popularity, even in precincts that typically would not support the actions of a Republican-majority state legislature and Republican governor, has not stopped corporate media from doubling down on their misleading “don’t say gay” branding. Opponents of the law have been unable to make a coherent argument in favor of teaching sex and gender identity concepts to 4-9 year olds, and are relying heavily on media misinformation to drive the law’s opposition.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams went so far as to launch a digital billboard campaign in several Florida markets depicting the word “gay” repeatedly, in rainbow flag colors, despite the fact that there is nothing in the law that targets homosexuals, transgender people, or any gender identity. Ron DeSantis has been governor of Florida for over three years and is on track to win reelection in November. There will be plenty of time for the governor’s opponents to oppose his measures in good faith. But to fight a law this narrow and inoffensive, to the degree that its detractors have in recent weeks, runs the risk of venturing into “boy that cried wolf” territory.
Brady Leonard is a musician, political strategist, and podcaster based in Toledo, Ohio. The No Gimmicks Podcast airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 1pm EST, wherever podcasts are found. Follow him on Twitter @bradyleonard