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DeSantis' spokeswoman takes heat over LGBTQ comments as protestors rally at the Capitol

 Students sit on the floor outside the Senate chamber.
Sarah Mueller
Students sit on the floor outside the Senate chamber.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary is facing fierce backlash after she made comments linking LBGTQ people to pedophiles. Spokeswoman Christina Pushaw’s statements on Twitter came as the Florida Senate prepared to take up legislation banning certain discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Pushaw described the parental rights in the education bill on Twitter as an “anti-grooming” bill. She says the bill bans the teaching of sex to children between 3 and 8 years old. The current bill language prohibits class lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation for K-3 students or if considered not age-appropriate.

Openly gay state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith called Pushaw’s comments “disgusting and dangerous" and said the bill is being used to push hateful rhetoric.

“It sends a terrible message that there is something wrong with us and that including us in our classrooms is somehow dangerous. We are not dangerous. We are a healthy and normal part of every school and every society.” 

Pushaw traded barbs with other state lawmakers on social media who expressed anger at her remarks. She defended her statements by saying she was not the one to insert LGBTQ issues into the bill—that it was something opponents did. And, Pushaw also stated she was referring to people who suggest children should be exposed to gender and sexual identity instruction in primary grades as pedophiles, not, LGBTQ people.

Some lawmakers have called for her resignation. St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes calls her Twitter comments ridiculous.

“If somebody wants to come and have an adult conversation or wants to say it to one of our faces, then we’ll talk. But I’m not going to discuss, you know, her random musing on Twitter and calling people out,” Brandes said when asked about Pushaw’s barbs on Twitter.

Brandes has filed several amendments to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Previously he offered an amendment that would have removed the language around gender identity or sexual orientation and replaced it with language banning teachings on human sexuality or sexual activity in grades K-through-3 instead. The amendment failed to get adopted.

During Monday’s Senate floor hearing on the bill, other amendments that would have banned discussion of human sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation also failed. Brandes says the amendments are consistent with his earlier proposal.

“Basically, all the conversations about human sexuality that fall outside of state standards are not allowed to be had from kindergarten to third grade. That’s what my original amendment said.”

Protesters against the bill again filled the Florida Capitol Monday. Tampa resident Kristine Phillips came to Tallahassee with her wife. She said she wants her 12-year-old daughter to be able to talk about her family at school.

“I also have nieces and nephews who are in the trans community and they are being told they can’t talk about themselves and it will end up killing kids that communicate their feelings while they’re trying to figure themselves out.

There is nothing in the bill that states children cannot talk about their feelings or their families, however, opponents worry the language of the bill will discourage teachers and others to engage with students—regardless of their age—on such issues.

The legislation requires school districts to notify parents of requests by students to use different names or pronouns at school. It states that schools and districts cannot withhold information related to a student’s physical or emotional health. Parents could sue school districts or seek a resolution through a special magistrate if a district were to violate the provisions of the bill.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.