Ron DeSantis only cares about parents’ rights when they’re his own

Lynchburg, Virginia USA - April 14, 2023 - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at Liberty University on April 14, 2023.
Ron DeSantis Photo: Shutterstock

Politicians with LGBTQ+ family members are some of our greatest fighters. Ron DeSantis wouldn’t be one of them.

With his presidential campaign in free fall, Ron DeSantis wants to show America a kinder, gentler version of Florida’s homophobe-in-chief — someone who enjoys fun, can relate to the needs of the common man, and grasps the concept of dessert. But if his recent comments on parenting LGBTQ+ youth are any indication, he’s still the same politician who spent his summer trying to stop trans people from peeing.

This week, the governor sat down with Time magazine for the first major interview of his increasingly woebegone quest for the Oval Office, a mission that is in the midst of a hasty rebrand as the one-time heir to Donald Trump’s throne trails far behind the former president in Republican primary polls.

The profile was novel for DeSantis, who generally favors coverage from handpicked sycophants in right-wing media over mainstream press, but any goodwill he hoped to generate by playing nice for the cameras was derailed by an incredibly awkward moment in which he dodged a question about what he would do if one of his three children came out as LGBTQ+. “Well, my children are my children,” he told the outlet, seemingly caught off guard by the line of inquiry. “We’ll leave that — we’ll leave that between my wife and I.”

The gaffe was baffling for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that DeSantis has spent the past several years stripping away the ability of parents to make private decisions regarding the lives of LGBTQ+ kids. In May, he signed a law prohibiting families of trans youth from seeking gender-affirming medical treatment and made it illegal for any adult to take a minor — whether they are queer or not — to see a public drag show. DeSantis’ non-answer betrays his own hypocrisy on the subject: He believes that total strangers should get a say in how LGBTQ+ youth are raised, except for when it comes to his own family. When it’s his own kids, then it’s a personal matter.

But the bigger issue that this uncomfortable exchange reveals is that DeSantis could never have answered the question, because his very platform is predicated on the fact that the rights of LGBTQ+ people don’t directly impact him.

Because DeSantis doesn’t have queer children, it doesn’t matter to him that trans girls across the state of Florida have been banned from playing on sports teams with the other girls at school. Because DeSantis doesn’t have queer children, it doesn’t matter to him that LGBTQ+ students attending K-12 schools are no longer allowed to learn about their own history in the classroom. The young people who are affected by those decisions aren’t his kids, and that gives him the privilege to treat the lives of LGBTQ+ people as political cannon fodder, our exploitation just another way to get votes.

It must be said outright: I truly hope that none of DeSantis’ children, who are still very young, come to one day realize that they are queer — because no child deserves to grow up with a parent who doesn’t affirm them, whose disapproval they fear too much to be honest about themselves.

When a politician espouses regressive political ideologies, there is a rush among the internet commentariat to wish upon them an LGBTQ+ offspring, as if Ted Cruz’s bisexual daughter or Elon Musk’s trans daughter could even the scales by enacting karmic punishment upon their fathers.

That kneejerk desire for a collective “gotcha!” moment always discounts the emotional needs of the kids helplessly caught in the middle: Who could want yet another LGBTQ+ person to have a difficult relationship with the parents they weren’t at liberty to choose? Notably, more than half of queer and trans youth experiencing homelessness cite family rejection as a root cause of their housing instability, according to LGBTQ+ homeless providers.

While having an LGBTQ+ child, thus, doesn’t automatically make someone a perfect ally, there is a compelling reason that people with queer friends and family members are more likely to support equality: It’s harder to hate an entire community indiscriminately when its members include someone you love.

Many of our most vocal straight allies are people with a connection to the community, and this is true even in DeSantis’ own party. After former U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s son came out as gay in 2011, he became the first Republican senator to ever publicly support same-sex marriage. Former GOP Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose son is the executive director of the National Center for Trans Equality, is an outspoken supporter of the Equality Act. Should one of DeSantis’ children ever come to him someday and tell him that they are queer, I hope that he is able to embrace them fully, that he can be like other conservatives who chose to put their kids’ happiness first. 

But if he struggled to even discuss how he might accomplish that feat, it’s because that affirmation would require radical realignment of his political ideals, a complete reshaping of the man who wears platform heels to fit what he thinks masculinity should look like.

Being a supportive father to an LGBTQ+ child would mean allowing them to use the bathroom that feels most comfortable for them or that will keep them the safest. It would mean giving them the space to explore new names, pronouns, or other facets of their identity that they aren’t yet comfortable sharing with their parents, because it can take time to work up the courage to be ourselves. That is not the current state of affairs in Florida, as a result of policies he still supports even as trans kids and their families flee the state. Loving a queer child, not just tolerating them but truly loving them, would mean throwing out every bad law he has ever signed and starting over.

DeSantis believes that firing his campaign manager and showing emotion during the upcoming Republican presidential debate will be just the makeover that his failing campaign needs, but it’s not nearly enough. It’s not enough for the queer kids in Florida whose lives he makes harder every single day or the kids in his own home who someday may come out and realize that the state their father rebuilt in his own image has no place for them.

Every last fiber in me does not want that for his children. My dearest wish is that he produces only the straightest, most indefatigably cisgender spawn who have ever walked this green earth. I wish all of them nothing but a life of profound heteronormativity for all their live long days. But if that unfortunately is not the case, DeSantis must be able to respond to that critical question, to decide what’s most important to him: his career ambitions or his kids. 

It shouldn’t take the possibility of having a queer child to make a politician like DeSantis act like a decent human being. It shouldn’t be the LGBTQ+ community’s responsibility to make the people who gave life to us better parents. So if DeSantis is so interested in a reboot, he should stop focusing on the White House and start there — at doing the work so that one day some poor kid might not have to. 

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