Florida College Students Protest DeSantis Legislation on Gender-Affirming Care and DEI

Under House Bill 999, public colleges and universities in Florida would be under unprecedented state control.
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  • New legislation proposed by the DeSantis administration would ban public colleges from promoting or supporting DEI programs.
  • The Florida governor's administration recently began auditing public institutions on their gender-affirming care services.
  • Hundreds of students at public institutions across the state staged a walkout last week to condemn these legislative moves.

The latest proposed legislation on higher education in Florida is causing outrage among local students.

Following months of discussion from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis about how "woke ideology" and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are dangerous and should be defunded, House Bill 999 was officially filed last Tuesday addressing these issues.

Under the bill, filed by its sponsor state Rep. Robert Alexander "Alex" Andrade, public colleges and universities in Florida would be prohibited from funding the promotion, support, or maintenance of programs that "espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric."

Additionally, the bill calls for local public institutions to remove any majors or minors in critical race theory, gender studies, intersectionality, or any derivative of these belief systems.

The filing of HB 999 comes shortly after DeSantis' administration called for an audit of gender-affirming care procedures and services available at public colleges and universities in the state along with the names and ages of the individuals who have received this care.

Students at the University of Florida (UF), Florida State University (FSU), the University of South Florida (USF), and other institutions were quick to express disapproval of these legislative moves in a statewide walkout last Thursday.

At UF, approximately 60 students dressed in black gathered outside of a campus library in protest with signs in hand.

Just before entering the building, third-year student Sabrina Briceno gave a speech in which she pleaded for academic freedom without consequence.

"We're talking about the basic freedom to choose our education with no attacks or threats to pull DEI funding, no attacks on our LGBTQ community, no attacks on our Black and brown community," she said.

At Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff marched throughout campus with signs that read "Trans Rights = Human Rights" while chanting, "Hey, DeSantis, we're no fools. We won't let you run our schools."

HB 999 is still in the early phases of the legislative process, and it is possible that some of the language will change before it passes — if it does.

Should it pass, it will give the state unprecedented control over public institutions and their offerings.

"This bill will be a gut punch to anyone who cares about public education in a democracy or academic freedom or the fact that our system of higher education is the envy of the world," said Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Further, it's likely that should the bill pass, its ideas will spread to other conservative states, and similar legislation will be introduced there, too.

Florida's legislative session will begin March 7. And while there's no word on if students plan further protests, it is likely this will not be the last time we hear from them.