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DeSantis signs flurry of anti-trans bills, including ban on gender-affirming care for minors

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several anti-transgender bills Wednesday which ban gender-affirming care for minors, ban children from attending drag shows, and target how students learn about and engage with the LGBTQ+ community. 

Senate Bill 254 outlaws gender transition surgeries and medication, such as puberty blockers, for minors. It also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for physicians and health care workers to provide gender-affirming medication or conduct these surgeries, and gives state courts the ability to obtain a warrant to take physical custody of a child who is "being subjected to sex-reassignement prescriptions or procedures."

DeSantis also signed an expansion of the Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, initially signed into law in March 2022, applied to students in third grade and under. But with the expansion, it now applies to those in eighth grade and under. 

The expansion, House Bill 1069, also defines in the state's education code that "sex" is either male or female, and that teachers can't be required to use a child's or co-worker's preferred pronouns "if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to that person's sex."

It's an action that Republicans argue promotes parental involvement in education, while LGTBQ+ advocacy groups say it promotes unjust censorship and is discriminatory towards the communities they represent.

Other bills signed Wednesday include bans on minors from attending drag shows, strip clubs or other "sexually explicit adult performances," and a bill titled "Ensuring Women's Safety," which bans trans people from using restrooms, locker rooms or other public facilities that match their identified gender. 

Florida is one of at least 19 Republican-led states that have banned youth gender transition surgeries or other forms of gender-affirming care, including Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Montana and Iowa, according to the Human Rights Campaign

Trans youth between the ages of 13 and 17 make up about 1.32% of that age group's population in Florida, according to numbers tracked by the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law.

In a bill signing ceremony Wednesday, DeSantis said the expansion of the Parental Rights in Education bill "crucially makes sure that Florida students and teachers will never be forced to declare pronouns in school or be forced to use pronouns not based on biological sex." 

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

"If a parent wants to engage in that with their kid at those ages, then that's up to them, but we should not be putting that in the curriculum in schools," DeSantis added. 

Florida state Sen. Clay Yarborough, a Republican who authored the expansion — and who on Wednesday endorsed a 2024 presidential run by DeSantis — told CBS News earlier this month that the bill was encouraged after hearing from parents about sexual orientation being taught in middle schools. 

"We still had non-compliance with current law, like materials in the library that were pornographic," Yarborough said. "If we can't show certain content on a nightly newscast … why would we let fourth graders sit in the corner of a library to look at that?"

"We're not saying you can't learn about these topics at all, we're saying parents need to be in the driver's seat," he added.

In response to the bills, Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said that DeSantis "has made clear that demonizing LGBTQ+ people will be the center of his legislative agenda and presidential run." 

"The rights of millions of Floridians are being rolled back by politicians who are attacking the LGBTQ+ community at a breakneck pace to pander to the most extreme fringes of their base," she said in a statement. 

Joe Saunders, a former Democratic state lawmaker who is now the senior political director at the Equality Florida group, argued that the numerous anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed during this session are being used by DeSantis to appeal to Republican primary voters in a potential 2024 presidential run. 

"His ambition and his extremism is ruining Florida," he said. "It's clear that the DeSantis political machine has decided that attacking the parents of LGBTQ kids … attacking drag queens, who are just trying to make a living, is somehow part of the math for that."

Saunders pointed to impacts from the version of the Parental Rights in Education bill passed last year — such as the Miami-Dade County Public School Board striking down a resolution to recognize LGBTQ history month — despite passing a resolution to do so before the law went into effect.

Anti-trans rhetoric, particularly as it relates to education and school sports, have been a frequent topic in DeSantis' out-of-state political speeches in recent months. 

"It is wrong for a teacher to instruct a student that they were born in the wrong body, or that their gender is a choice. We should not have transgender ideology in our schools, and in Florida, we have eliminated it," DeSantis said at a fundraiser in Sioux Center, Iowa last Saturday. He added that youth gender transition surgeries are "barbaric."

— Ed O'Keefe contributed reporting. 

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