Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is running against Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary for governor, called a controversial new Florida law aimed at discouraging discussions about sexuality and gender in classrooms “reasonable.” Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its opponents, Democrats and LGBTQ activists have rallied against the bill as a discriminatory attempt to prevent any LGBTQ topics from getting discussed.
Suozzi was asked about the law while a guest on WABC’s Bernie & Sid in the Morning on Thursday. “I want to ask you about this Florida law, the Parental Rights Act, which prohibits teachers from talking sex, genitals, stuff like that, with kids kindergarten to third grade,” Sid Rosenberg said to Suozzi. He referenced the bill’s formal name, the Parental Rights in Education act, as well as right-wing talking points about the intent of the law being to protect children from age inappropriate sexual discussion in the classroom. Suozzi responded by echoing the same talking points.
“I think it’s a very reasonable law not to try to get kids in kindergarten to be talking about sex,” he said on the show. “I wish it wouldn’t become such a hot button issue where people are just attacking each other – it's just common sense.”
Suozzi followed up his reply with an assurance that he is not anti-gay. “I’m very much in favor of equal rights, I’m very much in favor of treating gay people fairly and treating them like the human beings they are,” he added without directly addressing the controversy surrounding the Florida law. When Rosenberg began bemoaning policy “based on 3% or in some cases 1% of the population” – an apparent reference to LGBTQ-centric legislation – Suozzi quickly took the conversation in a different direction to criticize Hochul’s Buffalo Bills stadium deal.
As written, the law does not explicitly prohibit discussion of genitals nor being gay. “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,” reads the section in contention. Republicans have said the law is overall fairly innocuous and simply serves as a means to prevent “groomers” from indoctrinating kids. The term has become a common dog whistle among the right when discussing LGBTQ issues, connecting them with pedophilia. On the left, most view the legislation as a thinly veiled attempt to censor any LGBTQ discussions in a classroom setting.
The comments from Suozzi come not long after other prominent Democratic leaders in New York have taken strong public stances against the Florida law. New York City Mayor Eric Adams last week unveiled an ad campaign in support of gay New Yorkers and in opposition to the statute. Billboards reading “Loud. Proud. Still Allowed,” and “People say a lot of ridiculous things in New York. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ isn’t one of them,” will go up around the state.
Hochul has also taken a public stance against the Florida law. “The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that far-right Republicans in Flordia are pushing through is hateful, discriminatory, and dangerous,” the governor said in a February tweet. When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation in March, Hochul called it a “cruel and shameful political stunt,” in another tweet. Her campaign referred to these public statements when asked for comment. A spokesman for gubernatorial campaign of New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams – who himself has invited criticism for past comments on gay marriage – when asked for comment provided a statement saying “It's dangerous for any leader not to see Florida's Don't Say Gay law for what it is: a direct, hateful attack on the LGBTQ+ community.”
In a statement to City & State, Suozzi did not walk back what he said on the radio. “Let me be clear, as I said on the radio, I fully support LGBTQ and equal rights,” Suozzi said. “I absolutely do not support the Florida governor in most policies he supports. But I think it is reasonable that kids in kindergarten and first grade are not taught about their sexual orientation in school… Maybe this isn’t a politically correct position but it certainly seems like common sense to me.” The statement once again did not address the concern by many other members of his party that the law will lead to discrimination against queer students in school, but added that “it’s the far left and the crazy right who are making this a divisive issue.”
Suozzi’s stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” law shocked gay Democratic lawmakers in New York. “I think his comments are bone chilling,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who has heralded into law a number of prominent LGBTQ rights bills, told City & State. “I think every LGBTQ New Yorker should be put on notice that Tom Suozzi is no friend to our community.” State Sen. Jabari Brisport expressed similar outrage.
“One in three trans youth have considered suicide and a queer nightclub in Brooklyn was recently set on fire,” Brisport said in a text. “Tom Suozzi should be finding ways to support the LGBTQ+ community, not validating Ron Desantis’ bigoted moves.”