BREAKING: Human Rights Campaign Condemns Florida Gov. DeSantis’ for Signing ‘Stop WOKE’ Act

by Delphine Luneau

DeSantis' 'Stop WOKE' Act curtails protected speech in workplaces and classrooms through censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination.

Yet another example of Gov. DeSantis trying to tell people what they can say, what they can learn, what they can teach, what they can believe, and who they can be.

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization — condemned Governor Ron DeSantis for signing the “Stop WOKE” act (HB 7), legislation limiting protected speech in workplaces and classrooms by censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination. The legislation also changes Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination.

“Today, Governor DeSantis did the opposite of what the governor of Florida is elected to do – to protect and serve all of his constituents – choosing instead to yet again use the power of the government to punish or censor anyone he disagrees with and attack marginalized Floridians, including the LGBTQ+ community,” said Cathryn M. Oakley, State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “The Governor is determined to tell Floridians what they can say, what they can learn, what they can teach, what they can believe, and who they can be. The ‘Stop WOKE’ Act is designed to further exclude marginalized groups from necessary conversations in our schools, communities, and workplaces and to further limit individuals who deserve to exist freely, proudly, and to have their stories shared. Yet again, DeSantis is putting his ideology before the best interests of Floridians, and making a mess with slapdash, mean-spirited, impossible-to-comply-with law. We won’t let DeSantis forget the mess he’s made and we will continue to fight for Floridians until every person is seen, heard, and protected – no matter who they are – in every corner of the state.”

In 2022, Governor DeSantis also signed the dangerous and now-infamous “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill (HB 1557) – a bill designed to silence teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people – further stigmatizing and isolating LGBTQ+ kids and also undermining existing protections for LGBTQ+ students. The legislation, which has triggered major backlash from educators, students, and employers in Florida and across the country prevents teachers from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all students. And just this week, the Florida Department of Health released a statement, which it sent to licensed health and human services providers in the state of Florida, attacking the established standards of age-appropriate, medically-necessary, and often life-saving care for transgender youth – including "socially transitioning," which can include gender-affirming haircuts and outfits. HRC released a point-by-point rebuttal detailing the bad science and disinformation behind the newest attack on transgender and non-binary youth in Florida.

In response to the the passage of these bills and the Department of Health guidances, HRC launched a series of new billboards welcoming visitors to “Florida: The Sunshine ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ State.” The billboards are being placed in key areas across the state with high visitor traffic in order to call attention to Governor DeSantis’s measures attacking the LGTBQ+ community.

Strong Opposition to Discriminatory Attacks on LGBTQ+ Population

According to the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida, 49% of Floridians oppose the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill while only 40% support it. Opposition for the bill is even stronger in younger populations. A majority of Floridians between the ages of 18 and 24 — recent secondary school graduates — disapprove of efforts to erase LGBTQ+ people in classrooms.

Nationally, support for nondiscrimination protections is the highest it’s ever been, overall, and across state, religious affiliation, and party membership: According to a recent report from PRRI, approximately eight in ten Americans (79%) favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. This reflects an 11% increase in the proportion of Americans who support nondiscrimination protections since 2015 (71%).

The PRRI study also shows that legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill is unlikely to gain support from state residents — 80% of Floridians support nondiscrimination protections, and 66% of Floridians oppose refusal of service on religious grounds.

The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups, representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations, recently released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.

Nearly 200 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoken out to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed in states across the country. Companies like Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Airbnb, Disney, Dell, Dow, Google, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nike , and Wells Fargo have objected to anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation. Apple CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that he stands with LGBTQ+ youth harmed by legislation like HB 1557. More than 60 businesses went on the record earlier this month with an ad placed in the Dallas Morning News calling on public leaders to abandon efforts to write discrimination into law and policy. Apple, Capital One, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and Unilever were among the more than 60 businesses that joined the ad. Only weeks ago, Rosanna Durruthy, Vice President, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn, invited the LinkedIn community to stand up for LGBTQ+ families and their right to make decisions to support their loved ones.

Four of the largest U.S. food companies also condemned “dangerous, discriminatory legislation that serves as an attack on LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender and nonbinary people,” and the Walton Family Foundation issued a statement expressing “alarm” at the trend of anti-transgender legislation that recently became law in Arkansas.[3]

Legislative Attacks on LGBTQ+ People

The signing of the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill arrives at a time when statewide officials in Texas have tried to criminalize transition care for minors, and lawmakers in Alabama are on the verge of passing legislation to do so as well. Iowa recently became the first state in the country that had passed statewide non-discrimination protections that include LGBTQ+ people to reverse course by prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. And in South Dakota, Gov. Noem proclaimed that it “makes me sad” to hear about high rates of depression among LGBTQ+ people in her state – just days after she signed the first anti-trans bill of 2022 into law.

Just three months into the year, HRC is tracking 583+ pieces of potentially LGBTQ+-related legislation introduced in the 2022 state legislative session. Of those, at least 313 are classified as harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, and 137+ are specifically anti-transgender bills.

While the sponsors of these pieces of legislation make disingenuous claims about what their bills will do, their own statements and those of their supporters are revealing their true intentions. Governor DeSantis’ own press secretary, as well as advisers and staffers for Republican governors in Texas and South Dakota, and a bill sponsor in Iowa, have made public hateful comments this year laying bare that these bills are more about prejudice against transgender people than any real policy position.

A Coordinated, National Effort to Fear Monger and Marginalize LGBTQ+ People

Groups like the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Eagle Forum, and others are at the helm of this effort, seeking to use LGBTQ+ rights as a political wedge.

These bills are the result of a concerted effort by right-wing organizations that have been battling against LGBTQ+ progress for years. Across recent elections, one of the key anti-equality groups working to turn back decades of LGBTQ+ progress has been the American Principles Project (APP). APP and its chief underwriter Sam Fieler have invested millions of dollars in support of anti-LGBTQ+ candidates. In 2020, APP spent more than $2.6 million in ad spending in support of anti-equality candidates. In Virginia in 2021, APP spent at least $300,000 on digital advertising in support of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign.

Restoration PAC, run and funded by major anti-LGBTQ+ bankroller Dick Uihlein, spent at least $1.9 million in advertising across Virginia in support of Youngkin and donated $942,000 to the political arm of anti-abortion group Women Speak Out Virginia. Anti-equality group Free to Learn Action launched a $1 million ad campaign spreading widely debunked anti-transgender misinformation in support of Youngkin’s campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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