Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up all the anti-LGBTQ and racists bills he signed during ceremony at the Coastal Community Church in Lighthouse Point, Fla. | Wilfredo Lee / AP
Originally published in the People’s World on May 19, 2023
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP)—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bills Wednesday that ban gender-affirming care for minors, target drag shows, restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools, and force people to use certain bathrooms.
DeSantis has made anti-LGBTQ legislation a large part of his agenda as he prepares to seek the Republican presidential nomination. He signed the bills in front of a cheering crowd at the evangelical Cambridge Christian School in Tampa. The ceremony had a campaign-like feel, with DeSantis tossing Sharpies to a crowd, as opposed to when he privately signed measures on abortion and gun rights.
The state’s legislative session, scheduled to end this week, has been dominated by divisive cultural issues, with Republican allies of DeSantis approving his priority bills on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and education that are expected to aid the governor in his presidential bid.
The Senate on Wednesday voted to expand the “Don’t Say Gay” law, a major calling card of DeSantis, with a sweeping bill that prevents school staffers or students from being required to refer to people by pronouns that don’t correspond to the person’s sex.
It also bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation up to the 8th grade, legally reinforcing a DeSantis administration move to prohibit such lessons in all grades. Additionally, the bill strengthens the system in which people can lodge challenges against school books, another DeSantis initiative that has led to the removal of material he and his supporters argue are inappropriate for children.
“Think about what we’re doing, honestly. Think about how this will affect families that don’t look like yours,” said Sen. Tracie Davis, a Democrat. “They’re still families. They’re Florida families. But we’re treating them like they’re outsiders and we’re telling them we don’t want them here.”
The House also approved a proposal to ban people from entering bathrooms that do not correspond to their sex, a bill aimed at transgender bathroom use.
Democrats opposed the bills, and LGBTQ rallies were held at the Capitol during the session that ended two weeks ago. But Republicans have a super-majority in both chambers and easily approved the bills for DeSantis’ signature.
“It’s kind of sad that we even have some of these discussions,” DeSantis told the crowd, standing behind a lectern with a sign reading “Let Kids Be Kids.”
DeSantis presented a narrative that expert panels in the nation’s major medical associations have said is false, such as the idea that children are routinely being “mutilated.” While he said he is protecting parents’ rights, his opponents say he is denying the rights of parents with transgender kids.
“They have cloaked themselves in being the party of less government and parental rights, and what we’re seeing now is the total opposite,” said Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is gay. “Every other parent has the right to raise their child the way that they want to as long as your child is not gay, trans, bisexual. That’s freedom for some parents, but not for all parents.”
The gender care law also bans the use of state money for gender-affirming care and places new restrictions on adults seeking treatment.
Three Florida parents have asked a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order immediately blocking the new law’s enforcement. Attorneys for the families, who have a pending challenge to the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine, will be in court on Friday to argue that their children should be able to receive medical care as the case continues. The families are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign.
Planned Parenthood immediately started canceling gender-affirming care appointments after the bill was signed as the organization assesses the law’s implications.
Transgender medical treatment for children and teenagers is increasingly under attack in many states and it has lately been subject to restrictions or outright bans. But it has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations as appropriate care for people diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Their guidelines generally prevent surgery for minors.
Treatment typically begins with an evaluation for the distress caused when gender identity doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex. With parental consent, persistent dysphoria can be treated with hormones, but typically not until age 16. The guidelines also say surgery should be reserved for people 18 and older.
But DeSantis spoke to applause at the bill signing.
“We never did this through all of human history until like, what, two weeks ago? Now this is something? They’re having third-graders declare pronouns? We’re not doing the pronoun Olympics in Florida,” DeSantis said.
The gender-affirming care ban and the law targeting drag shows go into effect immediately. The bathroom restrictions and the law banning schools from forcing children to “provide his or her preferred personal title or pronouns” take effect July 1.
Jones said the governor’s choice of venue displayed the unpopularity of his campaign platform.
“If he’s so confident in his policies, don’t go hiding behind signing the bills at a Christian school or place where you’re more prone to get praise for your bigotry,” Jones said. “Do it out in the community. “
Republican Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the ban on gender-affirming care for minors, invoked his religion to defend the state’s actions.
“God does not make mistakes with our children,” Fine said.
Jones called Fine’s take on the Bible disingenuous.
“For anyone to use Scripture in the same breath as you are being discriminatory and hateful towards a community of people, it doesn’t work like that,” Jones said. “You can’t take a book that was built on love and turn it around and fit your narrative.”
Separately, Republicans in the House gave final passage to a DeSantis priority bill that bans colleges from using state or federal funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
Republican lawmakers in at least a dozen states have proposed more than 30 bills this year targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in higher education.
DeSantis is expected to formally announce his presidential candidacy after the end of the legislative session. He has spent significant time in recent months traveling to battleground states and elsewhere to promote his conservative agenda and trumpet his policies on race, gender, and education.
Brendan Farrington is Tallahassee Correspondent, Associated Press.
Anthony Izaguirre is Associated Press reporter for Florida.