White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned a bill passed earlier this week by the Republican-dominated legislature in Florida that prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels as “horrific” and contended it would lead to similar “hateful policies” being enacted.
The controversial legislation has been coined the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics who argue that the proposed curricular restrictions further stigmatize LGBTQ+ children and undermine existing protections in place for them at school. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law.
A reporter broached the subject during a press briefing on Wednesday by first pressing Psaki on President Biden’s voting record while serving as a senator for Delaware, and specifically when he moved in favor of passing legislation in 1994 that cut off federal funds to schools that taught “homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.”
She deflected from fully answering to Biden’s past “views and comments” and instead shifted focus to where the president stands on LGBTQ+ issues now, saying he has “spoken passionately” to the “discriminatory” nature of bills like the one forging ahead in Florida.
“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,” the text of the bill reads. Parents would be able to sue the school district if they believed violations had occurred.
Such legislation would discriminate against families and kids, Psaki said, and prevent children from receiving the support “they need at a time where that’s exactly what they need.”
“It’s a form of bullying. It is horrific,” she added.
Organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and American Civil Liberties Union of Florida have denounced the legislation, pointing to concerns over the potential harms to the health and safety of LGBTQ+ children and how the ban on conversations over issues including sexual orientation could be perceived as an act of government censorship — driving the erasure of LGBTQ+ people and stories from schools in the process.
The political advocacy group Equality Florida has already vowed to “challenge this bigoted legislation” in court if signed into law by DeSantis and its “vague language” is interpreted in “any way that causes harm to a single child, teacher, or family.”
Psaki questioned the motives of Florida leaders in passing the bill.
“What prompts them to do that? Is it meanness? Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school, in their communities?” she said.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona also criticized the legislation, saying that politicians in Florida “are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need” rather than helping them to recover from the pandemic. He noted that the department has “made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law” and urged officials to make sure “their students are protected and supported.”
DeSantis has been at the forefront of other hot-button cultural issues of late as a means of appealing to his conservative base. He rejected the portrayal of the legislation during a press conference last week by peddling disparaging talking points popular in the Republican Party about transgender people.
“How many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?” DeSantis said. “It’s basically saying for our younger students, do you really want them being taught about sex? And this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that.”