IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

White House condemns Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill

The White House also slammed South Dakota’s trans athlete ban as an increasing number of states consider similar bills.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden at the White House on Feb. 9, 2022.Patrick Semansky / AP

The White House slammed two states that recently advanced anti-LGBTQ bills, after being largely silent on the topic as an increasing number of states have considered legislation targeting transgender student athletes and limiting classroom discussion of LGBTQ-related topics.

In a statement on social media, President Joe Biden on Tuesday condemned a Florida bill that would bar the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s primary schools. He said he wants “every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are.” 

“I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve,” he said. 

Last month, a Florida House committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which supporters say is about protecting parents’ ability to be in charge of their children’s upbringing, while critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay“ bill, arguing that it would prevent teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues. 

On Tuesday, a Senate committee passed a nearly identical version of the House bill, and on the same day, Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled support for the bill, saying it is “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity. He stopped short of saying he would sign the bill.

Biden’s tweet followed an earlier statement Tuesday from the White House. 

“Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom,” a White House spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most — LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”

The spokesperson added that Florida’s bill is “not an isolated action.” 

“Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be,” the spokesperson said. “This is politics at its worse, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare. At every step of the way, Republicans have peddled in cheap, political attacks, instead of focusing on the issues parents, students, and teachers care about.”

The White House also issued a statement to The 19th, a nonprofit news site, after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed the first trans athlete ban of the year — and the 10th nationwide — into law last week. Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary, said Republican lawmakers are using anti-trans bills to score political points. 

“These anti-transgender bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation and undermine our nation’s core values,” he told The 19th. “These bills don’t keep kids safe — they put children and their families at risk of bullying and discrimination and, according to one recent study, damage the mental well-being of young people who deserve love and support.”

Both DeSantis and Noem are considered potential contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

So far this year, 160 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced or rolled over from the previous year for consideration, and 92 of those are anti-trans bills, according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan group that advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. Many of them, like that of Florida, would bar certain school policies or classroom discussions, while others target transgender students by limiting them from playing on school sports teams or using the school facilities that align with their gender identities.

So far, Biden and the White House have largely avoided commenting directly on anti-LGBTQ bills.

Last April — when states were considering a record number of anti-transgender bills — Biden spoke to the trans community directly in his first joint address to Congress, but he didn’t mention the bills by name. 

“To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people, you’re so brave. I want you to know your president has your back,” he said at the time.

Some advocates appreciated the gesture but wanted him to say and do more. One Texas mom, Kimberly Shappley, whose 11-year-old daughter, Kai, is trans and testified against anti-trans bills in the state, told NBC News last year that she wanted the Biden administration to lay out a plan for stopping the bills. She was considering moving her family out of Texas if anti-trans legislation passed. 

“Kamala Harris had a trans flag outside of her office,” Shappley said at the time. “OK, if you’re an ally, why aren’t you loudly telling my kid she’s going to be OK? Why aren’t you loudly saying, ‘You know what, Mrs. Shappley? You don’t have to move; we’ve got your back.’ I want somebody to say something.”

Months later, after nine states had banned trans athletes from school sports, the Texas Legislature passed a trans athlete ban in October, and a spokesperson for the White House issued a statement on social media. 

“Our message to young transgender people in Texas and across the country: these hateful bills are bullying disguised as legislation, and @POTUS and our Administration will always keep fighting for the full equality LGBTQ+ folks deserve,” said Matt Hill, a senior associate communications director for the White House.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law later that month.

Though Biden only recently spoke out about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, his administration has joined the legal fight against anti-trans bills that became law last year. 

The U.S. Department of Justice in June filed statements of interest in lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against two laws: a trans athlete ban in West Virginia and a law in Arkansas that bans trans minors from accessing gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers and hormones. 

The Justice Department said the laws in both states violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It also said the West Virginia law violates Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal funds.

In its statement Tuesday, the White House said the administration will not shy away from holding leaders accountable for “dangerous actions” that hurt students. 

“Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence,” the spokesperson said. “These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that LGBTQI+ face. The President wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone because of these legislative attacks to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve.”

Follow NBC Out on TwitterFacebook & Instagram