Florida Brings Hate to a Whole New Level With the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

It seems that, once again, the state of Florida is on pace to establish itself as a leader in America’s growing authoritarian movement.

Banning schools from teaching anything that might resemble an appreciation for racial diversity and actual history is just one example of Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s embrace of “smaller government.”

That would be bad enough by itself.

But being a republican, DeSantis wants to make it nearly impossible for Floridians to vote.

He proposed creating a taxpayer-funded state paramilitary force answerable only to him, prompting Rep. Matt Gaetz to team up with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon on the idea of forming an “army of patriots” and “shock troops” to be prepared take over the government if former President Donald Trump were to run and win the White House again in 2024.

DeSantis is positioned to sign a bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

And the pandemic?

“What pandemic?” DeSantis might as well be saying.

Last week, though, the state of Florida might have outdone itself for the “Cruelest Legislation” prize.

The Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill Tuesday that, if DeSantis signs it, would forbid schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades kindergarten through third, and encourage parents to sue schools suspected of violating the law.

The “Parental Rights in Education bill,” what opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, decrees:

“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Democratic state senator Tina Polsky blasted the bill, stating:

“What we really need to be doing is teaching tolerance, caring, loving, anti-discrimination, anti-bigotry. Tell me how this bill does that. Tell me how this bill is helping us create kind, giving, tolerate adults. I don’t see it. I see it as exactly the opposite.”

Her Senate colleague Annette Taddeo added:

“Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Republicans sacrificed the well being of LGBTQ+ students in order to appeal to the most radical parts of their base.”

Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel, of ACLU of Florida, said in a statement:

“H.B 1557 will directly harm already vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth and put their lives at risk. Florida politicians should be ashamed of its passage. This bill is a disgrace.”

She warned:

“Make no mistake; this anti-LGBTQ+ bill affects all Florida students and teachers. With this bill, politicians have essentially silenced teachers and students from speaking and learning about LGBTQ+ siblings, family members, friends, neighbors, and icons.

“This act of government censorship is ruthless and is designed to erase the existence of all LGBTQ+ stories and people from our Florida schools. The government should never be in the business of passing censorship bills. All of our kids should feel loved, accepted, and supported. This bill does the opposite. Banning the free speech of teachers and students is harmful and dangerous. Targeting LGBTQ+ kids and family members is discriminatory and cruel.”

State legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, Cathryn M. Oakley, said:

“The Florida state Legislature is playing a dangerous political game with the health and safety of LGBTQ+ kids. The existence of LGBTQ+ people across Florida is not up for debate. We are proud parents, students, and teachers, and LGBTQ+ people deserve to exist boldly, just like everyone else.”

The bill’s author, republican Rep. Joe Harding, claims the legislation means no harm, but is intended to restrict school districts from “insert[ing] themselves” into discussions best left to families.

His Senate colleague, Dennis Baxley, however, was at least honest when he announced the bill’s objective is to reduce the number of youths coming out as LGBTQ.

Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia upped the ante, though, when she took to the Senate floor for a 15-minute screed in which she spewed:

“Gay is not a permanent thing, LGBT is not a permanent thing. This isn’t about targeting. This is perhaps about rerouting the responsibilities back to the parents…A friend of mine went through the whole transition as an older man, 58-years-old, became a woman and guess what? He still likes women! He went through the whole process and we’d laugh together and I’d say, why do you want to deal with the hormones? Why do you want to worry about the extensions and the hair and boobs and the nails, and he loved it.”

But activists–many of whom are students–are not rolling over.

No sooner did the Florida Senate pass the bill than hundred of students walked out of classes in disgust, chanting “We say Gay.”

Promising walkouts would continue if DeSantis signs the bill, Winter Park High School junior Will Larkins said:

“We wanted to show our government that this isn’t going to stop. There were walkouts all last week. This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere.”

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned Ron DeSantis:

“The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.”

Not be outdone, Georgia passed its own version of Florida’s bill the same day the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed the Fla. Senate.

Are republicans even trying to promote the “smaller government” canard anymore?

What would be the point when so many in the republican base no longer need to be lulled into supporting anti-democratic positions?

Image credit: Pokerfuse.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.