How Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law regulates school lessons on gender, sexual orientation

A controversial new law went into effect in Florida this week. Coined by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, it forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade. But those who oppose the bill say it doesn't protect parents, it just harms children. Ana Ceballos, a reporter for the Miami Herald, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A controversial new law went into effect in Florida this week coined by opponents as the don't say gay bill. It forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade.

    "PBS NewsHour" correspondent John Yang has more on what lies ahead.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, Governor DeSantis says the law is necessary to protects parents' rights to consent to discussions around sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

    Here is the governor signing the bill into law on Monday.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL):

    I don't care what corporate media outlets say. I don't care what Hollywood says. I don't care what big corporations say. Here I stand. I'm not backing down.


  • Gov. Ron DeSantis:

    And so, in Florida, we will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.


  • John Yang:

    But those who oppose the bill say it doesn't protect parents; it only harms children.

    This is Democrat Shevrin Jones, the Florida Senate's first openly gay member.

  • State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-FL):

    In my heart, I don't believe any of you in here, my colleagues, many who I have known for years — I believe that we all want to do right, but it seems as if politics has — we have gone down a road to where we're scared to just step out to make sure we're not hurting people.

  • John Yang:

    For more on both sides of this new law that's caused national controversy, Ana Ceballos, a state government reporter from The Miami Herald.

    Ana, thanks so much for being with us.

    This has been shorthanded, I think, mostly by opponents as I understand it, as the don't say gay law. Help us out here. What does the law actually say and what does it actually do?

  • Ana Ceballos, The Miami Herald:


    You know, this is a very concise bill. It is a seven-page bill. But it has divided not only Floridians, but people across the country, because there's different perceptions about what this bill would actually do.

    But what this bill actually does is, it, in essence, regulates school lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade or in higher grades approximate if they are not age-appropriate, according to state standards that are going to be written and clarified by the Florida Department of Education by next June.

    The Department of Education is led by someone who DeSantis will appoint or the governor will appoint, whoever gets elected in November. And so this bill has been very divisive because a lot of people think that, because it's so broadly written and a lot of it has to be clarified and defined, could target specifically LGBT students and how teachers and trusted adults in classrooms can communicate about certain topics.

  • John Yang:

    And there is also, I understand, provisions about dangerous home situations. What do those provisions say?

  • Ana Ceballos:


    So there are provisions that put an emphasis on how schools notify parents about services that are changed for their students in terms of things that are impacting their mental health or anything that could potentially be emotional distress, potentially from going through sexual orientation or gender identity confusion.

    And so this bill, what it says is that schools need — cannot implement procedures that would prevent the notification to parents about what the student is going through. And this is seen by many parents as a weigh-in who want to be more — who are concerned that maybe schools are taking more of a control by giving — by deferring to the student and not the parent.

    And parents would be allowed to sue the school district if they feel like their rights have been violated because they were not notified enough about what services have changed for their students.

  • John Yang:

    So, you say some parents like that.

    But, in general, what are parents and teachers saying about the new law overall?

  • Ana Ceballos:

    So, there's a lot of concern because of how vague these provisions are and how — just how much needs to be clarified as to what these standards will be and what will be considered age-appropriate by the state.

    A lot of LGBT advocates are concerned that this could potentially lead to outing students, for example. Or there's concern that maybe teachers might not know much about the situation at home and who could be facing abuse, neglect, or abandonment because of the information that might be required to be disclosed to a parent.

    And there are protections in the bill that say that schools don't need to disclose information if it could lead to the harm of a child. But not everyone knows absolutely everything that is going on. So that is something that some teachers have expressed concern with, saying that this could potentially be a chill effect as to what they — the discretion that they might have.

    A lot of it remains to be seen.

  • John Yang:

    Some big corporations — as you say, a lot of the regulations have yet to be written.

    Some big corporations have sort of spoken out against this, as has the White House. But the big corporations, how much of an impact — or is that going to have any effect in Florida, do you think?

  • Ana Ceballos:

    Well, we are seeing Disney, which is a very powerful — not only a powerful corporation in the state with Disney World, but it's — it has a lot of influence in the state. And it has historically had a lot of influence over laws that were passed in the state and just in the political arena.

    And we are seeing a lot of pushback from Disney, saying in a statement just on Monday that this should have never been a law that was passed, signed into law, and that it will do all it can do to support efforts to repeal this.

    And Ron DeSantis, our governor, has very much doubled down against Disney and said that they — the corporation is a woke Disney and that they have crossed the line by trying to get involved in what the state does and what policies it should have.

    So I think we're going to be seeing a pretty high-profile and ongoing clash between such a giant like Disney and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who definitely is an ambitious governor who might be eying a potential 2024 run for the White House.

  • John Yang:

    Ana Ceballos, state government reporter for The Miami Herald, thank you very much.

  • Ana Ceballos:

    Thank you.

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