Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed legislation banning the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s public schools, a controversial policy that opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The Walt Disney Company immediately condemned the legislation and vowed to help get it repealed. Opposition among business leaders has been slowly building momentum this month as it moved through Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate. Starbucks, Nordstrom and Pinterest are among 45 companies that earlier this month quietly signed on to a two-year-old petition broadly condemning anti-LGBTQ legislation.
The newest signatories include retail companies Target, Mattel and Lululemon, according to the latest version of the petition, which has more than 200 signatures. Sony Interactive Entertainment, Deutsche Bank USA, Hyatt Group Hotels & Resort, Yahoo! and Shutterstock also added their names in recent weeks.
The Florida measure rocketed to the forefront of national politics in recent months, drawing sharp criticism from the LGBTQ community, Hollywood, Democrats and the White House. Its passage comes as a flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills advance in several states, leaving advocates fearful that already marginalized groups are at risk of harm.
DeSantis said he backed the bill because parents’ rights are “increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children.”
He said parents also “should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5-years-old,” according to a statement released by his office.
Formally titled the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, the new law takes effect in July. It prohibits classroom “discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through grade three or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate.”
The bill also gives parents the right to pursue legal action if they believe a school’s procedures are infringing on their “fundamental right” to make decisions related to the “upbringing and control of their children.”
DeSantis, the bill’s sponsors and other Republicans have stressed that the measure is necessary to give parents oversight over what students learn and discuss at school, calling it “inappropriate to be injecting those matters like transgenderism in a kindergarten classroom.”
But opponents have argued that the Florida bill is vaguely worded and that it could give way to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation about LGBTQ people or issues is inappropriate.
LGBTQ advocates slammed the new law.
The Human Rights Campaign saidDeSantis “once again placed Florida squarely on the wrong side of history, and placed his own young constituents directly in harm’s way – and he has done this for no other reason than to serve his own political ambitions,” according to a statement released by the group.
“We’re staring at a new reality where LGBTQ+ students may wonder if they’re allowed to even acknowledge their own sexuality or gender identity; a reality where young people with LGBTQ+ family members may be forced to remain silent while others can speak freely; a reality where LGBTQ+ school staff may be forbidden from so much as mentioning their loved ones,” interim president Joni Madison said in the statement.
The human rights group also pointed to data showing that LGBTQ youth already face “real threats and obstacles to overcome, such as high rates of bullying, harassment or assault at school.
Many of the nearly four dozen companies that signed the petition this month have been relatively quiet on the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S. so far. Their signatures come as Disney faces sharp backlash for its initial silence on the Florida bill.
“The current political climate across the country is so toxic when it comes to protections for our community and Florida is not immune,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, in a press release about the petition.
“It is vital that the businesses that uplift values of diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community by participating in our Pride celebrations, leverage their voices in a time when our community is under attack,” Smith said.
Advocacy groups Human Rights Campaign and Freedom For All Americans first published the petition in 2020 to address dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the U.S. at the time.
The petition garnered support from around 44 companies by March of that year, including tech giants Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft as well as companies like Hilton, American Airlines and Dow Inc. A year later, the petition had signatures from more than 55 companies.
Signatures tripled to more than 150 by the beginning of 2022 state sessions in January, according to Jessica Shortall, director of corporate engagement at Freedom For All Americans.
The petition also saw an uptick in signatures during February and March this year.
Several companies “with a major presence in Florida” added their names to the petition on Feb. 28, just days after the state House passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Among the new signatories were United Airlines, Oracle and IHG Hotels & Resorts, which all represent tens of thousands of employees in Florida, according to HRC.
Shortall said it wasn’t Florida’s bill alone that prompted companies to lend their support. Lawmakers in Alabama, Iowa, Texas and Arizona have all recently introduced or adopted anti-LGBTQ policies.
The Alabama state Senate made it a crime to provide gender reassignment medical services to transgender youth last month. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in late February also instructed Child Protective Services to open child abuse investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children, she added.
At the beginning of March, Iowa became the first state to pass a ban on transgender student-athletes playing sports consistent with their gender identity. The Arizona House on Thursday also passed a similar bill that seeks to ban transgender children from playing sports alongside their peers, just three weeks after the state Senate passed it.
“So much attention has been on the Florida bill. But from around the end of February to March the Texas situation and countless other efforts to attack LGBTQ people have been ongoing,” Shortall said.