According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, more than three-quarters of Republicans (76%) support Florida’s controversial new “Don’t Say Gay” measure, which seeks to silence any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in public elementary school classrooms by allowing parents to sue if they believe teachers have broached those subjects.
Widespread support for the law among Republicans is not surprising given that it was Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who championed it and Florida’s Republican Legislature that passed it.
What may be more unexpected is that the new survey of 1,618 U.S. adults, which was conducted from March 31 to April 4, found that nearly a quarter of Democrats (24%) also think it should be “illegal” for “teachers or other school personnel to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity when teaching children in kindergarten through grade three,” despite weeks of objections and outrage from party leaders and activists.
At the same time, another 24% of Democrats say they’re “not sure” how they feel — leaving only about half (52%) in explicit opposition.
In contrast, just 1 in 10 Republicans opposes the ban.
The resulting imbalance — with conservatives united in their support and liberals largely divided — helps explain why the GOP is leaning into the “Don’t Say Gay” debate as it seeks to rally its base and drive a wedge between Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
It also explains why Democrats may struggle to respond. Overall, just 27% of Americans say discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity should be “legal” in K-3 classrooms — while nearly half (49% for sexual orientation, 48% for gender identity) say they should be “illegal.”
This is no accident. As critics of “Don’t Say Gay” have pointed out, the actual text of the law — “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” — is vague enough to encompass nearly any reference that offends certain parents, including a passing mention of a student with two mothers or fathers. (The law’s preamble prohibits not just “instruction” but “classroom discussion” as well.)
That, in turn, will allow offended parents to drag the school district to court — a threat that critics fear might dissuade teachers and students from even acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ characters, historical figures, friends and family members.
“Cash-strapped school districts can’t afford to test the bounds of a law like this,” Brandon Wolf of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida recently told the Washington Post, citing reports that some schools in the state have started to peel off rainbow safe-space stickers from windows. “It’s the chilling effect that is a natural implication of this legislation.”
In response, Republicans have only ratcheted up their rhetoric, conflating orientation and identity with sexual activity itself in an effort to smear opponents as so-called groomers bent on sexualizing children and even enabling pedophilia — a charge that seems to presume that mentioning “two moms” is somehow more sexual for young children than mentioning “a mom and a dad.”
“The bill that liberals inaccurately call “Don’t Say Gay” would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw recently tweeted. “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.”
Unfounded right-wing fears about “grooming,” which have also fueled the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory, are “spiking at a moment when long-marginalized LGBTQ identities are starting to appear in popular culture and to become more accepted,” according to a recent Washington Post report — and critics say it is precisely these fears that Republicans such as DeSantis are seeking to exploit.
So far, it’s unclear whether the public is buying these more extreme accusations, but the latest Yahoo News/YouGov survey shows the law’s proponents — who pointedly rejected an amendment to replace the phrase “sexual orientation or gender identity” with “human sexuality or sexual activity,” saying it would “significantly gut” the bill’s intent — are using its vagueness to their advantage.
According to the poll, roughly two-thirds of Republicans now believe “parents should be allowed to sue school districts if teachers discuss sexual orientation [70%] or gender identity [66%] when teaching children in kindergarten through grade three.” Independents agree (46% and 47% percent, respectively) more often than not (34% and 36%). And a significant minority of Democrats concur as well (25%, 22%) or aren’t sure (16%, 17%).
An additional provision of the law seeks to limit references in older grades as well. When respondents were asked whether “parents should be allowed to sue school districts if they think teachers at ANY grade level have discussed sexual orientation or gender identity ... in a manner that is not appropriate” — mirroring the text of the bill, which permits only “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” discussions “in accordance with state standards” — the numbers were nearly identical.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,618 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 31 to April 4, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.