Who is Ron DeSantis? Where does he stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

Ron DeSantis
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will likely challenge former President Donald Trump for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination. DeSantis touts Florida as the place “Where Freedom Lives.” As its governor, he has signed bills outlawing “woke” anti-racist and LGBTQ-inclusive education — they’ve been challenged in court as violating free speech.

Ron DeSantis at a glance

  • Location: Jacksonville, Florida
  • Position sought: U.S. President
  • Current position: Governor
  • Party affiliation: Republican
  • Race/ethnicity: White
  • Sexual orientation: Straight
  • Gender identity: Male
  • LGBTQ+ ally: No

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DeSantis studied history at Yale University and graduated in 2001 with a B.A. magna cum laude. After teaching history for a year at Darlington School, a private college prep school in Georgia, he attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 2005 with a Juris Doctor cum laude.

DeSantis served in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, the military branch’s legal arm. He was stationed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp where he allegedly oversaw the forced feeding of detainees. He was deployed to Iraq in 2007 to serve as a legal advisor to a SEAL team.

After returning to the U.S. in 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice under then-President George W. Bush appointed DeSantis to serve as a Special Assistant U.S. attorney in Florida. DeSantis then successfully ran to become a U.S. House representative in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2016. As a representative, he served on the Committees for Oversight and Accountability; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary Committee, and the Republican Study Committee.

He ran a successful campaign to become Florida’s governor in 2018, running against bisexual candidate Andrew Gillum (D). Trump endorsed DeSantis. DeSantis won re-election in 2022.

DeSantis’ stand on LGBTQ issues

DeSantis opposes LGBTQ rights on several levels. He revoked state funding of LGBTQ+ community efforts and has antagonized organizations that publicly disagree with his anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Additionally, DeSantis signed the so-called “Stop WOKE Act” to forbid schools and businesses from offering anti-racist education. The law is currently on hold as a court considers its impact on our constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

Same-sex marriage

In December 2022, DeSantis said there was “certainly no need” to pass The Respect for Marriage Act, a national law requiring federal and state governments to legally recognize same-sex marriages. The act was introduced in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s suggestion of overturning the landmark 2015 decision to legalize marriage equality.

Trans children in sports

In June 2021, DeSantis signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The law allows parents to sue if any public school or college allows transgender females to play on sports teams matching their gender identity. An earlier version of the law required female athletes to submit to “gender-confirming” genital exams.

While signing the law, DeSantis said, “In Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports and boys are going to play boys’ sports.” He has condemned the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for its trans-inclusive policies and its criticism of his transphobic law.

Don’t say gay/LGBTQ+ discussions in schools

Gov. DeSantis has become best known for signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which allows lawsuits against educators who mention LGBTQ+ identities in elementary school classrooms and restricts discussions about LGBTQ+ people in higher grades. DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said that anyone who opposes the law is a pedophile.

While signing the law, DeSantis said, “We have seen curriculum embedded for very very young children, classroom materials about sexuality and woke gender ideology. We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate, pornographic materials for very young kids.”

The law has forced LGBTQ+ educators to hide their identities and to remove LGBTQ+ educational materials and anti-bullying signage. DeSantis’ former press secretary’s claims of teachers “grooming” children for sexual abuse have echoed throughout the right-wing media-sphere, leading to death threats against educators, librarians, and school board members.

After Disney publicly opposed the law, DeSantis retaliated against Disney. DeSantis supports expanding the law to target teenage and transgender students. He has also helped members of the anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms for Liberty get elected to district school boards and dictate book-banning policies for school libraries.

Discrimination protections

In 2015, DeSantis supported the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would’ve prevented “the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals or institutions based on their definition of marriage.” His support signals a willingness to allow religious exemptions to LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws.

Other LGBTQ issues

In 2021, Gov. DeSantis vetoed his state’s budgetary funding for LGBTQ+ programs, including mental health support for survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, housing for homeless queer youth, and funding for Orlando’s LGBTQ+ Community Center.  

DeSantis’ administration revoked the liquor license of a venue that hosted an all-ages drag show. State officials accused the show of performing sexually explicit songs and dances without expressly prohibiting children from attending.

DeSantis’ career

  • Graduated from Yale University in 2001 with a B.A. magna cum laude
  • Graduated from Harvard Law School in 2005 with a Juris Doctor cum laude
  • Enlisted in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps
  • Oversaw alleged detainee mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay
  • Served in Iraq in 2007
  • Appointed as Special Assistant U.S. attorney in Florida
  • Elected to U.S. House representative in 2012, 2014, and 2016
  • Elected as Florida’s governor in 2018 and 2022

In conclusion

DeSantis opposes expanding LGBTQ+ civil rights, LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections, and LGBTQ-inclusive school policies.

Stay informed about his career by subscribing to the LGBTQ Nation newsletter.

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