- The Washington Times - Friday, July 1, 2022

The White House is prodding Florida students and parents to file federal anti-discrimination lawsuits over the state’s new law that bars schools from teaching sexual orientation and sexual identity before fourth grade.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the law, which took effect Friday, was “shameful.”

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves,” she said in a statement.

Critics dubbed the law “Don’t Say Gay,” claiming it was an LGBTQ gag order and would encourage bullying. The White House echoed those concerns.

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who championed the legislation as a parental rights issue, objected to the White House statement.

“The White House continues to lie about FL’s work to protect children as young as five years old from sexualized lesson plans,” DeSantis campaign spokeswoman Lindsey Curnutte said on Twitter. “@RonDeSantisFL is committed to putting students first and protecting parents’ rights, and no false WH statement will change that.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre, who is the first Black and openly gay White House press secretary, encouraged students and parents who think they are victimized by the law to file a federal lawsuit.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights,” she said. “Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.”

She said the White House had already received reports of “Safe Space” stickers removed from classrooms, teachers told not to wear rainbow symbols and LGBTQ teachers forced to remove family photos from their classrooms desks.

“This is not an issue of ‘parents’ rights,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points. It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being.”

The law prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity issues in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is not age-appropriate for students. A provision in the law also requires school staffers to alert parents about “critical decisions affecting a student’s mental emotional or physical health.”

Supporters of the legislation, including Mr. DeSantis, a Republican who is running for reelection this year, say the measure only applies to young children and gives parents more control over their children’s education. They also contend that it doesn’t prohibit teachers from talking about their LGBTQ families or ban classroom discussions about LGBTQ history.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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