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When right-wing Florida legislators and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis got the infamous "don't say gay" legislation passed, they had plenty of help from conservative media outlets and influencers, which then amplified DeSantis's message once he signed the measure into law.
Key to the effort was Libs of TikTok, a Twitter account run by anti-LGBTQ+ activist Chaya Raichik, according to a new analysis by the Daily Dot. The analysis is based on nearly 900 pages of documents the site acquired through a public records request, plus articles and tweets. They demonstrate the significance of Libs of TikTok in getting the legislation through, the site reports.
There were numerous interactions between Libs of TikTok and DeSantis's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who notoriously described the "don't say gay" legislation as an "anti-grooming bill." Pushaw and Raichik "interacted on Twitter over 100 times" between June 2021 and April of this year, the Daily Dot notes, citing a Media Matters report. Pushaw said Libs of TikTok "truly opened my eyes" on what's being taught about LGBTQ+ issues in schools.
For instance, Libs of TikTok shared information about a private preschool in Florida having children switch caps of markers, an exercise that was meant to teach that a person's outside appearance doesn't always reflect their reality. Raichik said that was an example of teaching LGBTQ+ content that was illegal in Florida. At that point, however, the bill had passed the legislature but hadn't been signed by DeSantis, and it doesn't affect private schools anyway.
After DeSantis signed the bill, right-wing outlets described it in glowing terms and claimed its critics were putting out misleading information. They included two dozen outlets that had received an email from Pushaw.
Her email "claims that the bill is about parental rights and implies that schools give kids prescription medication without parental consent," the Daily Dot reports. "'Schools should never give students medical treatments (for example, cross sex hormones for students who identify as transgender) behind their parents' backs,' it states."
Right-wing media picked up on this assertion, even though Florida law already required written parental consent for any medication, even over-the-counter drugs, to be administered to children in public schools. "There are no documented cases of Florida schools giving children hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers, which require a prescription," the Daily Dot adds.
Media outlets such as Rebel News and The Post Millennial described the legislation as an "anti-grooming bill," just as Pushaw had, and some said it was designed to prevent the "sexualization" of children as young as 5.
"Most on Pushaw's list glossed over or entirely omitted the fact that Don't Say Gay regulates classroom discussion in all the grades, focusing instead on its prohibition of instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade," the Daily Dot notes. "Even the stories that do quote the bill's language include lines like this one in the National Review, 'Rather than a bigoted effort to ostracize LGBTQ students and faculty, the bill is explicit that it is designed to keep curriculum about sexuality out of kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.'"
Some pointed out that the law's text doesn't actually ban the word "gay." But it does restrict discussion of sexual orientation, and it's clear that the language isn't aimed at heterosexuality, activists told the Daily Dot. "We know that this isn't going to cause school districts to stop having students read Shakespeare, for example, Romeo & Juliet," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.
Warbelow also took issue with right-wing media's assertion that the law won't cause schools to out children to their parents. It actually will, she said, as it requires parental consent before a school provides a student with mental health counseling.
DeSantis's team is "creating this circle of discourse about what the Don't Say Gay bill really is," Eli Erick, founder of Trans Student Educational Resources, told the Daily Dot. Rod Hicks, ethics and diversity director at the Society of Professional Journalists, added, "It's not unusual for government offices or elected officials to send press releases to media outlets they believe will give them favorable coverage. But professional journalists should verify information and challenge any statements that are misleading or raise other concerns."