Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who launched a long-shot presidential bid this week, took one of his first shots at a GOP primary opponent on Friday by criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' expansion of a school policy that prohibits the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms.
"I think that that's excessive," the Republican mayor told NBC News' Hallie Jackson when asked about expanding the law to all grades.
DeSantis last year signed legislation banning classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In April, the Florida Board of Education approved an expansion of the ban to all grades, at DeSantis’ request.
Suarez had previously expressed support for the initial iteration of the Don't Say Gay law but hadn't taken a public position on the expansion.
"I think we need to make sure that, you know, young adults do get sex education training," Suarez said on Friday. "We need to make sure that our children can grow up in an environment where they can make good choices, but I don’t think it should be indoctrination. And I think that’s where—where there can be a debate."
Suarez also criticized DeSantis when asked about the governor's ongoing feud with Disney, saying he believed DeSantis was “wrong” to continue a fight that first centered on the initial Don't Say Gay bill.
“I think he should have stopped there and not made it personal,” Suarez said. “You can’t convert political battles into personal battles.”
DeSantis’ office and campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Suarez’s remarks.
In 2022, then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek publicly opposed the initial Don't Say Gay bill. The dispute grew more heated following a pair of lawsuits, with Disney suing DeSantis and a local board stacked with his supporters voting to sue the entertainment conglomerate. Bob Iger, the company's former CEO who returned to take the helm of Disney in November, called DeSantis’ actions “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”
Suarez, who is the first Hispanic candidate to enter the 2024 race, is making Miami and its diversity a cornerstone of his campaign.
"Miami is a very inclusive city, we're a city that is very tolerant, we want everyone to feel comfortable and confident being in our city and it's something -- that diversity of our city, is a strength for us," he said on Friday.
Before he was re-elected to a second term as mayor, Suarez in 2020 signed an ordinance that he said was aimed at “recognizing the decades of contributions by the LGBTQ Miami residents to the economy and diversity of the city.”
In his first campaign speech as a presidential candidate, Suarez on Thursday said he would reach voters who Republicans struggle to win over at the ballot box, particularly “young voters and urban voters and segments we can make gains with, like Hispanics and suburban women."