- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made banishing the “woke” agenda a top priority of his administration, is battling gay rights groups and one of Florida’s largest employers in his latest effort: banning sex education from early elementary classrooms.

Mr. DeSantis plans to sign the Parental Rights in Education bill, which cleared Florida’s Republican-led Legislature last week in party-line votes after emotional debates in both chambers.

The legislation would prohibit schools from teaching about sexual orientation or sexual identity in kindergarten through third grade, or any other grade “in a manner not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate in accordance with state standards.”

The legislation responds to parents’ complaints that schools are teaching children as young as 5 about transgenderism, homosexuality and other matters related to sex and gender.

Critics of the bill have hijacked the narrative in mainstream media. They have relabeled the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and accused Mr. DeSantis of trying to censor in-school discussion and recognition of LGBTQ issues.

LGBTQ groups nationwide are fighting to stop similar measures in other states. They have held public demonstrations in Florida and attacked the legislation widely on social media as anti-gay. What is missing from their narrative is the bill’s narrow application banning sex education for only the youngest students.

SEE ALSO: Florida Democrats rally against Gov. DeSantis over parental rights legislation

“Saturday Night Live” recently dedicated a segment to mocking the bill, and one of the show’s stars led the audience in a “gay” chant.

Mr. DeSantis is not bowing to public pressure.

He has vowed to sign the bill despite efforts from liberal groups and even Disney. Under pressure from employees and others, Disney executives protested the bill in a phone call with Mr. DeSantis.

“The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations, the chances of that are zero,” Mr. DeSantis told a crowd in Boca Raton on Thursday.

Mr. DeSantis rejected the pleas of Disney CEO Bob Chapek and took a public swing at the company, one of Florida’s largest employers and tourist attractions. He said Disney executives were rejecting the values of many parents who attend the company’s massive theme parks with their young children while accepting huge sums of money from business deals with China. 

“You have companies like Disney that are going to criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten or in first-grade classrooms,” Mr. DeSantis told the Boca Raton crowd. “If that’s the hill that they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship with the Communist Party of China?”

Mr. DeSantis is also battling media coverage, which appears to overwhelmingly embrace labeling by LGBTQ groups that oppose the legislation. Although “Don’t Say Gay” does not appear anywhere in the bill, media outlets including NBC News, CNN, USA Today, YouTube and NPR have used the phrase in headlines to describe the measure. 

The LGBTQ groups and liberal-leaning organizations have saturated media with dire predictions if the bill becomes law. Human Rights Campaign said the measure is a significant threat to educators and children.

“It would prevent teachers from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all,” said Elizabeth Bibi, the organization’s communications director. “It would block teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids. This bill would also undermine existing protections for LGBTQ+ students.”

Mr. DeSantis last week excoriated a local Florida television reporter who asked the governor at a press conference whether he planned to sign “what critics call the Don’t Say Gay bill.”

The governor thrust his finger at the reporter and accused him of misleading the public about the legislation by parroting opponents of the bill. 

“The idea that you wouldn’t be honest about that and tell people what it actually says, it’s why people don’t trust people like you — because you peddle false narratives, and so we disabuse you of those narratives,” Mr. DeSantis told the reporter. “We’re going to make sure that parents can send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into the school curriculum.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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