(Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a Republican-backed bill Monday that would ban classroom teaching about the sexual orientation and gender identity of many young students, drawing sharp criticism from businesses, Democrats and advocacy groups.
The law that its opponents call the bill “Don’t say like me”sparked national controversy and drew attention during the Oscars Sunday night, against the backdrop of a growing partisan debate over what schools should teach children about race and gender.
Officially called the bill Parents’ rights in educationThe Florida measure prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity to children in kindergarten through third grade, or approximately five to nine years old, in public schools.
It also prohibits the “improper age or development” of students in other classes. Under the law, which takes effect on July 1, parents will be able to sue school districts they believe are in violation of the ruling.
“We will continue to recognize that parents in Florida play a critical role in their children’s education, health care, and their children’s well-being,” DeSantis said. “I don’t care what the big companies say, here I am. I will not back down.”
DeSantis, who is seeking re-election this year and is widely seen as running for president in 2024, joined other Republicans around the country in calling for parents to have more control over what young children learn in school.
The Republican governor signed the bill into law at a charter school in Spring Hill, North Tampa, surrounded by young schoolchildren and parents who shared personal stories they said showed the new law was necessary.
Students across Florida protested the move, with President Joe Biden calling it “abhorrent.”
The Oscars hosts even referenced the bill, while Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain, in her acceptance speech, denounced the “discriminatory and intolerant” legislation sweeping the country.
After DeSantis signed the bill into law on Monday, a Walt Disney Co spokesperson said the legislation “never should have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is to have this law repealed by the legislature or invalidated in Court”.
Civil rights organization Lambda Legal said it would challenge the law in court. “Our youth are not political pawns,” Kevin Jennings, chief executive of the organization, said in a statement.
The legislation has been criticized for the ambiguity and complexity of some of its wording. For example, it says that even discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited “at certain class levels or in a certain way.” The Florida Teachers’ Union called the law a “political ploy” subject to legal challenges.