Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has attracted national attention for his divisive policies and speech on LGBTQ+ issues. His history on these issues seems likely to gain greater importance as he mounts his national campaign for the 2024 presidential elections.
As his political star continues to rise, it’s important to recount specific moments during his governorship that have defined his stance on various LGBTQ+ issues. Whether he becomes president of the United States or not, DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ politics are definitely influencing other politicians and activists who see them as a template to either emulate or oppose.
Ron DeSantis signed a slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills
In May, DeSantis signed several anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, including a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths, restrictions on such care for adults, a ban on all-ages drag shows, a ban on trans people using facilities matching their gender identities, an expansion of the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, and a bill legalizing anti-LGBTQ+ medical discrimination.
DeSantis issued several tweets saying that the laws were required to protect kids from “genital mutilation,” to protect wives and daughters from “woke ideology run amok,” and to ensure that students learn “reading comprehension — not gender fluidity and pronouns.”
The restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender youths go against the best practices of most major medical associations in the United States. He has also signed the so-called “Stop WOKE Act” and other laws that prevent institutions from holding diversity training on the oppressions faced by LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups. His Stop WOKE Act has so far been blocked in court for its likely violation of free-speech protections.
“Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state,” Equality Florida, Florida’s biggest LGBTQ+ organization, said in a statement.
In response to DeSantis’ policies, the mayors of eight Florida cities signed a pledge to protect LGBTQ+ youth. Hundreds of drag performers protested the drag ban, and the cities of St. Lucie and Tampa canceled their annual Pride events to avoid violating the law. Also, LGBTQ+ ally and advocate and former NBA player Dwyane Wade, who has a trans daughter, announced that his family fled the state because it is no longer a welcoming place for families like his.
DeSantis opposes LGBTQ+-inclusive policies for kids & adults
In addition to his aforementioned comments, DeSantis has made numerous anti-LGBTQ+ remarks showing his opposition to policies welcoming LGBTQ+ people into public institutions. He has even used disinformation to justify his opposition.
While speaking at the Feenstra Family Picnic in Iowa in May, DeSantis criticized the U.S. military’s LGBTQ+ recruitment and retention efforts, saying, “When you see videos of folks recruiting for the military services using things like drag queens, you know, that is just fundamentally wrong…. The military has lost its way on some of this stuff. They are politicizing what being in the military is…. They are embracing things like gender ideology… We need to get the military focused on what it’s supposed to be.”
To support his “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis repeatedly told a fake story about a school that forcibly transitioned a child. “Some people in the school had decided that the daughter was really a boy and not a girl, so they changed the girl’s name to a boy’s name, had her dress like a boy, and on doing all this stuff, without telling the mother or getting consent from the mother,” he said at an event in March — but the story wasn’t true. Emails revealed that the mother actually asked the school to use they/them pronouns for her nonbinary child.
Nevertheless, DeSantis’s rhetoric largely echoes other anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing politicians and pundits, including those who want to defund the military to end its LGBTQ+-inclusive policies. His comments about gender-affirming care “mutilating” children are untrue, seeing as gender-affirming surgeries on genitalia aren’t conducted on kids. Similar comments have led to bombing threats against gender-affirming children’s hospitals.
In response to DeSantis’ comments and their implication for his potential presidency, Equality Florida wrote, “Ron DeSantis has said every state should be like [Florida]. Now, he’s going to use his Slate of Hate as his starting block for his presidential run. We will not stop resisting. We will not stop fighting back. We deserve better than DeSantis’ hate and cruelty.”
DeSantis is opposed to protecting same-sex marriage rights
As recently as early May, DeSantis refused to say if he supports LGBTQ+ marriage rights. When asked if he supported “more mainstream human rights, like gay marriage,” he spoke about his state’s efforts to censor LGBTQ+ content from public school classrooms.
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. He added that he felt it was a “valid” concern to worry that the act would be used to encroach on people’s “religious liberties.” 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.
Commenting on DeSantis’ rhetoric on the issue, gay journalist Michaelangelo Signorile wrote, “DeSantis knows attacking same-sex marriage might alienate a lot of voters. But DeSantis also knows that people often follow emotion (and unconscious bias) rather than facts when it comes to their children, especially if parents are less educated about LGBTQ issues.”
DeSantis has never acknowledged Pride Month, and even worse…
Since becoming governor, DeSantis has never issued any proclamation or other official statements recognizing June as LGBTQ+ Pride month in his state.
Even worse, in the first days of Pride Month 2021, DeSantis signed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports. The following day, he vetoed $900,000 in funding for Central Florida LGBTQ+ support programs, including $150,000 for mental health services for survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting and $750,000 for housing homeless LGBTQ+ in Orlando.
Explain the significance of acknowledging Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community. Many Democratic governors and even Republicans like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former President Donald Trump have issued statements recognizing the month. The month commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Uprising as well as the generations of activists who have fought against violence and oppression to achieve equal rights and justice for LGBTQ+ people worldwide.
In 2019, his first year as governor, DeSantis commemorated the Pulse shooting anniversary by issuing a statement that failed to mention the LGBTQ+ community targeted in the attack. In 2022, he ordered flags in the state to be lowered to half-mast in remembrance of the massacre.
DeSantis’ office has worked with anti-LGBTQ+ groups
DeSantis’ office coordinated directly with Chaya Raichik, who goes by LibsofTikTok on social media, and other right-wing media outlets to push disinformation defending his “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March 2022. On the day he signed the bill into law, his press secretary sent press materials disingenuously defending the law to over 50 media outlets, including numerous right-wing websites and social media influencers.
DeSantis has also helped members of the so-called “parents’ rights” group Moms for Liberty get elected to local school boards in his state, and he appointed one of the group’s members to a political board that state Republicans created to punish Disney for publicly opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Moms for Liberty’s past activities have included offering bounties for turning in teachers who discuss “divisive topics,” attacking the Trevor Project for trying to prevent LGBTQ+ teen suicide, trying to get a book about seahorses banned for being too sexy, complaining about a book about the Civil War because it portrays “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil,’” trying to get librarians arrested for offering “inappropriate books,” saying that two girls briefly kissing at a school function is “lewd” and “traumatic,” lobbying in Florida for the Don’t Say Gay bill, encouraging schools to ignore LGBTQ+ History Month, and suggesting that LGBTQ+ students be forcibly isolated from other pupils.
The group has also pressured public school libraries across the country to allow book donations from conservative publishers that push anti-LGBTQ+ and white supremacist ideals, Vice News reported.
DeSantis’ LGBTQ+ policies reverberate far beyond Florida
DeSantis’ recent history of anti-LGBTQ+ comments and legislation, his use of disinformation for justification, his opposition to protecting same-sex marriage and acknowledging Pride month, and his willingness to work with anti-LGBTQ+ groups all strongly suggest that he’s homophobic. While some LGBTQ+ conservatives have supported his policies as “common sense,” progressives have criticized them as driving a national right-wing war on queer lives.
Of course, political observers continue to observe the effects his words and policies have on the queer community, especially as he articulates a national platform for his presidential campaign. His and other politicians’ platforms on LGBTQ+ issues will reverberate beyond their home states, creating a national political climate in which queer people and their allies will have to unite in a shared quest for greater LGBTQ+ rights and political representation.
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