DeSantis spokesperson under fire for saying ‘dont say gay’ opponents are child groomers

Florida Republicans are pushing bill that critics say will promote discrimination against LGBT+ students

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A spokesperson for Florida’s governor made a shocking claim about opponents of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and is now facing sharp pushback from the law’s critics.

The state has been the site of a passionate political battle for weeks as state Republicans push the passage of a bill that would prevent "classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity" in public schools. Critics of the bill say that it will promote discrimination against LGBT+ students by sending the message that their sexuality is inherently immoral or wrong, and some argue that the bill’s text is overly broad and could be weaponised in lawsuits against any discussions about topics that include mention of LGBT+ persons.

On Friday, Gov Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw took to Twitter to make a shocking claim about the bill’s critics, mostly Democrats.

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” she tweeted.

In a second message, she added: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

The shocking statements seemed more likely to have come from a right-wing radio host or furious protester on the street than a press secretary for the governor’s office; still, the tweets remained up as of Monday.

Her comments were sharply criticised by Equality Florida, a LGBT+ rights organisation, which accused her of spreading smears against the LGBT+ community which have been around for decades.

“Governor DeSantis' spokesperson said the quiet part out loud: that this bill is grounded in a belief that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, are a threat to children and must be erased,” said the group in a statement.

“This same bigoted insinuation has long been used to stigmatize our families, justify denying us the ability to adopt children, and is being used to justify the tracking of transgender children by government agents in Texas and threats to imprison their parents. Make no mistake — this is a tacit announcement from the Governor that he supports the true intent of the Don’t Say Gay bill: the erasure of LGBTQ people,” the group continued.

Representative Angie Nixon, a Democratic member of the state legislature, was more direct and wrote on Twitter that Ms Pushaw was “hateful, anti-Semitic, homophobic, unhinged, vile and the list goes on”.

But Ms Pushaw is doubling down. In a reply to one Democratic state lawmaker who called for her resignation over the comments, she simply wrote: “A hit dog will holler”.

“I’m speechless,” responded Rep Carlos Smith in a subsequent quote-tweet. “Republicans and Democrats must condemn these personal and libelous attacks on my character, paid with taxpayer money.”

The bill, known officially as HB 1557, is set for a vote before the full Florida state Senate on Tuesday. Republicans have a majority in the chamber, meaning the bill is likely to make it to Mr DeSantis’s desk to be signed into law.

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