The same state that delivered homophobes like Anita Bryant and Terry Jones has now given rise to Gov. Ron DeSantis. In the past month, the Republican governor of Florida has endorsed some of the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in America. But that sadly follows suit for a possible presidential contender who is increasingly wooing America’s far right. Here’s a summary of slights and assaults against Florida’s LGBTQ+ citizenry at the hands of this Donald Trump acolyte.
The earliest sign DeSantis may not have been the moderate many hoped for came with on the third anniversary of the Pulse shooting, where a gunman killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in 2016. Former Gov. Rick Scott had twice issued Pulse Memorial Day proclamations to “mourn the tragic loss of life and recognize the lasting impact it has on our state and communities, including Florida's LGBTQ community.” DeSantis issued a statement as well, but did not say LGBTQ+ — or Hispanic for that matter — when describing what remains the worst mass murder of LGBTQ+ Americans in history. "Imagine if the Mayor of Pittsburgh didn’t talk about the Jewish community in a proclamation about the synagogue shooting," tweeted state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who represents Orlando. The immediate shame prompted some backpedaling. After blaming staff for the oversight, the governor tweeted about the “ISIS-inspired terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that targeted the LGBTQ and Hispanic community, and Florida as a whole.”
A few years later, he followed suit with many Republicans seeking right-wing adoration in the post-Trump age by signing a law forbidding transgender girls from playing in school sports consistent with their gender identity. Just to get a jump on other right-wing governors backing similar bills, DeSantis signed Florida’s trans sports ban on the first day of Pride Month last year. “By signing a heartless ban on transgender kids in sports, @GovRonDeSantis is marginalizing an entire community,” tweeted Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, the same day she announced she would run against him. “Signing it on the first day of #Pride2021 is especially cruel. Florida should stand for inclusivity, equality, and liberty — not peddling hate for political points.”
The Republican governor has frequently framed right-wing policy from refusing mandates to increasing school voucher funding in terms like “parents’ rights.” That also apparently covers the rights of homophobic parents to when their children confide about their sexuality to school officials so they can abuse them or kick them out of their home. Ostensibly sold as a bill making sure parents know about any medical care their children receive at school, LGBTQ+ advocates expressed alarm that covered any accessing of mental health services. “Safe spaces are being called into question with this bill,” warned Lakey Love, an activist with the Florida Coalition for Trans Liberation. “This is an attack on LGBTQIA+ students.”
DeSantis most recently landed in national headlines after signaling support for “don’t say gay” legislation working its way through the Florida legislature now. The bills would bar primary school staff from "encouraging" discussion around gender identity or sexual orientation to students. The bill prompted a rebuke from President Joe Biden. Before that, Chasten Buttigieg, husband to out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, spoke eloquently on the bill. “As a kid who grew up for 18 years being told 'you don't belong, something about you is wrong,' sometimes you take that trauma to heart,” Chasten Buttigieg said. That didn’t move DeSantis, who instead accused teachers of indoctrinating and confusing children, claiming some told young students, “Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.” “Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write,” he told reporters.
DeSantis upped his insensitivity quotient last Pride Month and vetoed $150,000 budgeted by the legislature specifically for counseling Pulse survivors. The money was earmarked for the Orlando United Assistance Center. Brandon Wolf, a survivor who lost two close friends in the shooting, reacted with shock. He shared a picture taken when DeSantis in his first years as governor visited the Pulse memorial. “Here’s @GovRonDeSantis in 2019, standing on hallowed ground, promising me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “Today, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget.” The money was cut from the budget shortly before the five-year anniversary of the shooting.
The same day, the governor nixed another $750,000 for the Zebra Coalition, an Orlando nonprofit dedicated to providing housing for gay and transgender youth, who thanks to the Parents Bill of Rights were that much more likely to end up on the streets. “What message is the governor trying to send to LGBTQ Floridians with these actions?” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a queer lawmaker, told the Orlando Sentinel. Meanwhile, the Zebra Coalition was left struggling to find resources amid tragically growing demand. “Now we’re going to be left picking up the pieces, and there’s not even going to be support for housing for them,” said executive director Heather Wilkie.
Amid right-wing attacks on the inclusion of antibullying materials in Florida’s Department of Education online resources, the DeSantis administration in December abruptly took down any guidance discouraging the victimizing of LGBTQ+ youth. Materials had originally been posted through the Office of State Schools, created in the wake of the Parkland shootings. Dropping the guidance stunned leaders at Equality Florida. “A politically motivated assault on the LGBTQ community is putting young people at risk,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. “Vulnerable youth deserve better than a DeSantis Administration intent on putting them in harm’s way in order to score cheap political points.”
None of this feeds any optimism about how DeSantis will greet legislation likely to pass this year allowing the challenge of academic materials in Florida schools. Anti-LGBTQ+ activists have openly lobbied for legislation that would allow anyone anywhere to challenge books like Theresa Thorn’s It Feels Good to Be Yourself, a book about school-age children of varying gender identities. Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first out state senator, took issue with the notion such books would turn children queer. “As a gay man, to sit here in committee, to hear that, there was no book that I read that brought me to who I am,” he said in committee. But as a priority of Republican leadership in the legislature, the bill seems to be on a fast track to passage.