Karine Jean Pierre claims that gay Florida teachers can’t have spouse photos. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday repeated the false claim that gay teachers in Florida have been forced to take photos of their spouses off their desks or risk losing their teaching license.
Jean-Pierre’s remark came during the daily White House press briefing, as she commented on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which was expanded on Wednesday to encompass all public school grade levels in the Sunshine State.
The law, championed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, restricts classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity. It had previously only applied to teachers with students in pre-kindergarten through third grade and is formally called the “Parental Rights in Education” law.
Jean-Pierre on Thursday called the law “dystopian” before she made the false claim about teachers’ photos.
“As this measure takes effect, it will prohibit all students, up to seniors in high school, from learning about our, learning about or discussing LGBTQI+ people in the classrooms,” she said.
“Teachers in Florida have already faced the devastating consequences of the existing law. Under threat of having their licenses revoked, gay teachers have been forced to take down pictures of their spouses from their desks and censor their classroom materials,” Jean-Pierre added.
The claim has been shared widely on social media since last summer in the form of a meme, which also claims rainbow clothing was also being banned.
The false claim stems from comments made during a June 28, 2022, school board meeting in Orange County, where several teachers spoke about their concerns regarding the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Teachers in Orange County had apparently learned that during administrators-only seminars, lawyers for the school district advised principals to discourage teachers from wearing rainbow items and displaying photos of same-sex spouses.
The school district later disavowed that guidance, and said it was not “formal guidance.”
“During the presentation, administrators posed hypothetical scenarios based upon the new statutes and verbal answers were provided based on the limited guidance from the Florida Department of Education,” a spokesman for the district said at the time. “Once further guidance is received from the Florida Department of Education, the district will provide formal guidance to administrators and staff.”
A district spokesperson later flatly denied that gay teachers would be forced or even encouraged not to display pictures of their spouse in the classroom.
“All teachers are encouraged to keep pictures of their families in the classroom,” the Orange County school district clarified to teachers union members. “However, in K-3, it was cautioned against specific discussions in the event those discussions could be deemed classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In response to a lawsuit filed by political advocacy group Equality Florida, the state of Florida also declared that there is “no merit” to the claim that photos of same-sex spouses in classrooms would lead to teachers’ licenses being revoked.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the state argued that “there is no merit … to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from ‘put[ting] a family photo on their desk’ or ‘refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse (and their own children).’”