Tennis star and Florida native Coco Gauff spoke out against recent legislation passed in her home state on Wednesday, condemning the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill.
“I’m against it,” Coco Gauff told reporters in an interview ahead of her first match at the Indian Wells tournament in California. “I think these conversations are important, and for me, who has friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk about your identity. I feel that’s something that is normal.”
The Florida bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by the media, prohibits elementary school classrooms from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation. The new legislation also allows for parents to sue school districts that they believe may be in violation.
Passing the Florida state senate on Tuesday, the bill now heads to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed support for the highly controversial anti-LGBTQ+ measure. The bill joins a growing list of reactionary educational policies throughout the U.S. including book bans, pride flag removals, and Critical Race Theory rants at school board meetings.
Earlier Thursday morning, Florida’s Senate also passed a Gov. DeSantis-backed bill on how teachers discuss race in the classroom. The “Individual Freedom” bill, according to CNN, was written with the GOP belief that educators are making children feel “guilty for historical events committed by people of their race.”
Both bills have received intense backlash from Democrats and the LGBTQ+ community, with many critics feeling the safety for children to explore their gender in the classroom will be taken from them.
“Every [LGBTQ+] person I’ve known has known that they were part of that community since they were young,” Coco Gauff told reporters. “I think it’s important that they have those conversations in school, because that is supposed to be a safe space to talk about everything.”
“I think it was in 2019 or 2020 when I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement. I said it was important to have those conversations,” Coco continued. “Same stance on this. I think it’s important to have those tough conversations, and from the people that I spoke to who are part of the community, it definitely makes a difference when you don’t have to hide who you are.”
The young tennis star is about to turn 18 years old on Sunday, and already holds a 87–44 career record.
Defeating Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was just a 15-year-old, she made a name for herself as a rising star in the tennis world. Since then, she’s risen to hold a current rank of No. 19 in the world for female tennis players.
Speaking out against injustice throughout her career, Coco Gauff appeared at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020 to say that it was “sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that (my grandmother) did 50-plus years ago.”
“We must have the tough conversations,” she said at the time. “We need to take action. … It breaks my heart because I’m fighting for the future of my brothers. I’m fighting for the future of my future kids. I’m fighting for the future of my future grandchildren. So, we must change now.”
The bill, if signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would go into effect starting on July 1, according to NBC News. The Florida governor has expressed zero opposition to the legislation and has been a very outspoken supporter of its passing.
“We’re going to make sure, he said on Monday, “that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum.”