Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs anti-LGBTQ laws affecting gender-affirming care, bathroom use and drag shows

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chose a Christian school as his setting for signing bills Wednesday that ban gender-affirming care for minors, restrict pronoun use in schools and force people to use the bathroom corresponding with their sex in some cases.

DeSantis signed bills at Christian school on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

A man with short brown hair, wearing a navy blue suit with a red tie, visible from the shoulders up, in front of the red and white stripes of a large American flag.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen in a photo taken in Tampa on Nov. 8, 2022, has made anti-LGBTQ legislation a large part of his agenda as he builds toward a Republican presidential campaign. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chose a Christian school as his setting for signing bills on Wednesday that ban gender-affirming care for minors, restrict pronoun use in schools and force people to use the bathroom corresponding with their sex in some cases.

Wednesday also marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, an annual event held on May 17 that is meant to honour the fight for equality and the efforts to stamp out hate and discrimination against LGBTQ people worldwide. 

DeSantis has made anti-LGBTQ legislation a large part of his agenda as he is expected to announce his presidential candidacy in the coming days. He has leaned heavily into cultural divides on race, sexual orientation and gender as he moves to win support from conservative voters who decide Republican primary elections.

He signed the bills in front of a cheering crowd at the Cambridge Christian School in Tampa.

The ceremony had a campaign-like feel, as opposed to when he signed measures on abortion and gun rights in private.

"It's kind of sad that we even have some of these discussions," DeSantis told the crowd as he stood behind a lectern with a sign that read "Let Kids Be Kids."

"We never did this through all of human history until like, what, two weeks ago? Now this is something? They're having third graders declare pronouns? We're not doing the pronoun Olympics in Florida," DeSantis said to applause.

Republic Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the ban on gender-affirming care for minors, invoked his religion to defend the state's actions.

"God does not make mistakes with our children," he said.

The governor also signed a bill that has implications for drag performances. The legislation prohibits "exposing children to an adult live performance," which includes performances that feature "lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts." The language of the bill is vague but is widely seen as targeting drag shows. Though House Bill 1438 does not specifically refer to drag performances, it only referenced events such as a drag brunch and a holiday touring performance called "A Drag Queen Christmas," as examples. 

Democrats opposed the bills, and LGBTQ rallies were held at the Capitol during the session that ended two weeks ago, but Republicans have a super majority in both chambers and the bills easily moved through the legislative process.

LISTEN | Some travellers reconsider visiting Florida over anti-LGBTQ politics:
Earlier this month, Equality Florida released a travel advisory in which they warned of the risks posed to the health, safety, and freedom of LGBTQ people who may wish to travel to Florida in the wake of laws they say are harmful to the queer community. Alex Guye spoke with Adam Taylor, a travel advisor and agency owner in Dartmouth, about what he's hearing from the queer community.

Florida school district sued over book censorship

Meanwhile, writers' group PEN America and publisher Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district on Wednesday over its removal of books about race and LGBTQ identities.

The federal lawsuit alleges the Escambia County School District and its school board are violating the First Amendment through the removal of 10 books from library shelves.

The case does not name DeSantis as a defendant though the Republican governor has also championed policies that allow the censorship and challenging of books based on whether they are appropriate for children in schools, causing national uproar.

"Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our Constitutional rights," Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, said in a statement.

A man holds up a rainbow flag with a red lines crossing it and a state seal in the centre, while walking past people and palm trees in the background.
A protester waving a pride flag with the Florida State Seal joined immigrants rights and abortion rights groups and members of the LGBTQ community from across the state, in a rally and march, in Orlando on May 1. Writers' group PEN America and publisher Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district on Wednesday over its removal of books about race and LGBTQ identities. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

Escambia County school officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The lawsuit says the removals stem from objections from one language arts teacher in the county, and in each case the school board voted to remove the books over recommendations from a district review committee that deemed them educationally suitable.

The teacher's formal objections to the books appear to draw on materials compiled by a website that creates reports on books it deems ideologically unsuitable for children, according to the lawsuit. In one example cited in the lawsuit, the teacher admitted she had never heard of the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky but filed an objection form to the novel that contained specific excerpts and phrasing from the book ban website.

Among the other removed books are The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed and Lucky by Alice Sebold.

The lawsuit said more than 150 additional books are under review by the school board.

"In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices. In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand," said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America.

"The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong."

WATCH | U.S. divided over legisltion affecting transgender youth:

A country divided: Transgender rights in the U.S.

6 months ago
Duration 23:05
Mar. 28, 2023 | Hundreds of bills targeting transgender people and their rights have been introduced in the United States. Andrew Chang is joined by an activist tracking it all. Then, a mom and her trans son explain why they won’t leave their state.

With files from CBC News