Parental rights have always been a joke for Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Photo: YouTube screenshot

In the off-chance that there is still anyone gullible enough to believe that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) cares about the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, his actions this week are proof enough that the only parental right he believes in is the right to raise children to be like Ron DeSantis: conservative, hateful against LGBTQ+ people, and ignorant about the reality of racism.

He just signed a slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, including a horrifying bill that allows the state to take transgender kids from their families if they are “subjected to or [are] threatened with being subjected to” gender-affirming care.” The bill classifies gender-affirming care as “serious physical harm” as a justification for pushing trans kids into the custody of their anti-trans parent if their parents aren’t married, allowing Florida courts to modify out-of-state custody agreements. The law also bans gender-affirming care for minors, taking that decision away from parents and doctors.

Behold the level of seriousness and decorum DeSantis maintained at the signing ceremony for a bill that will destroy families and end lives on Wednesday:

DeSantis grabbed national attention last year with his “Parental Rights in Education” law, better known as “Don’t Say Gay.” According to DeSantis, the point of the bill was to protect parents’ rights by preventing teachers from indoctrinating their kids into being accepting of their LGBTQ+ classmates and their classmates with LGBTQ+ family members.

“The last couple of years have really revealed to parents that they are being ignored increasingly across our country when it comes to their kids’ education,” he said as he signed that bill into law last year.

And he had the whole “parental rights” schtick down, complete with a fake story about a school that forced a student to be transgender against the parents’ will. He said that “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.”

Some local reporters, though, looked into it and found out that that didn’t quite happen: The school conversed about the student’s nonbinary identity with their mother, and the mother told the school to handle the situation in accordance with their guidelines. No one even accused the public school of buying clothes for the kid.)

But this past week, parental rights are over for DeSantis. He signed several anti-LGBTQ+ bills that directly take rights away from parents. In addition to the bill that opens the door to the state kidnapping trans kids from their families, another bans kids from seeing adults dressed in drag, even if their parents are present. It’s a bone Florida Republicans are throwing to the hateful people who have spent the past year protesting and shouting hate at children and their parents as they attended family-friendly drag story hour events across the country.

Why would DeSantis even bring up parents’ rights in the first place if he doesn’t believe in them? In part, it’s because “I support parental rights” sounds better than “I hate transgender kids.” There is a history on the right of using parental rights — a real legal doctrine — to wallpaper over their more unsightly opinions.

While parental rights aren’t mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has long upheld the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects parents’ rights to raise children and make decisions about their upbringing and education as they choose, although that hasn’t been taken to mean that individual parents have a right to veto anything public schools try to do.

This legal doctrine was popular among segregationists in the wake of the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that ended legal racial segregation in public schools. Following that decision, “a rallying cry for parental rights… arose as the outcry of a massive resistance countermovement that birthed such groups as white Citizens’ Councils or ‘Uptown Klans,’ comprised mostly of middle- to upper-class white Southerners seeking to preserve their segregationist way of life,” Maya Henson Carey, research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote.

Then, just as today, the right understood the importance of indoctrinating their children into hatred to keep their outdated ideas alive for one more generation. It’s no surprise that many people who are angry at books about gay penguins in schools are the ones trying to ban “critical race theory”; DeSantis himself signed a bill to limit education about racism in schools last year, claiming that it would ban the conservative bogeyman of “critical race theory.”

He claimed that the law would “ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights.” The right of children to a decent education — as well as the rights of parents who want their kids to understand basic societal issues like racism — didn’t matter to him as much as the right of conservative parents to keep their kids ignorant.

But how did conservatives get themselves to the point where they think that opposing LGBTQ+ rights is synonymous with parents’ rights? Part of it has to do with how many conservatives live in an ideological bubble: The other parents they know are straight and cis and don’t like LGBTQ+ people, so all parents must be the same.

Another reason is that younger queer and trans people are more comfortable with owning their identities than previous generations were, making the terrain of the battle between LGBTQ+ and open-minded people versus anti-LGBTQ+ bigots look a lot like a fight between younger and older people. And the one parental right that authoritarians hold the most dear is the right of parents to force their kids to do as they say and be like them.

So these policies didn’t start from a place of concern for parents’ freedoms; they started with their desire to limit the visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. Conservatives have used parental rights to create a narrative of the besieged parent under attack from their own children and from other LGBTQ+-accepting institutions like the media and schools. And that narrative leaves no room for open-minded parents or LGBTQ+ parents.

It was always about hatred and never about giving parents the ability to direct the upbringing of their children as they see fit. That’s why DeSantis could find humor as he was signing a bill to allow the state to take away children from their parents for the crime of accepting them, something that should have been even more horrifying for the self-styled parental rights advocate.

He never cared about parents and their children, so forcibly breaking those bonds isn’t something that he is capable of taking seriously.

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