Much has been said about Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley’s ardent pushing of an ultraconservative, religious right agenda during his time in Republican politics. Whether as executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, as a state representative, or now as a state senator, Baxley's history has not been one marked by tolerance.
The descendant of a Confederate soldier, Baxley, 69, has a history of making remarks sympathetic to white supremacists. He also subscribed to and pushed the racist and xenophobic conspiracy theory in 2008 that then-candidate Barack Obama was Muslim and could not be trusted as a result.
The self-professed devout Southern Baptist’s previous claim to fame was his sponsorship of Florida's controversial 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law, but with the pending of the "don't say gay" bill, which he also sponsored, he has cemented himself in the annals of Florida legislative history as one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers.
Here are just seven examples in two decades’ worth of Republican Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley's well-documented anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
In 2003, after the landmark ruling in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court making same-sex marriage legal in that state, Baxley warned that extending that right was a threat to American families.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the decision alarmed many conservatives, Baxley included.
"I think it's a wake-up call to those who feel like we are redesigning the family in a way that is not good for society," said Baxley. "I think there'll be a lot more dialogue before we decide how to respond, but I have no doubt that there will be a legislative response."
In 2013, Baxley participated in a panel discussion on improving middle schools. His aim was to abolish Florida's ban on guns in schools in the aftermath of the then-recent tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Baxley is the original sponsor of Florida's controversial 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law.
As The Huffington Post reported, the conversation turned to what Baxley perceived to be a primary concern: that single mothers and other family configurations without a strong male father figure in the children's lives were detrimental to children.
"It's easy to say parents need to get involved, but half these kids are raising themselves," Baxley said, "they don't have any parents that are functional. How can we address that?"
Then Baxley equated the children of alcoholics, drug addicts, and other abusers with the children of lesbian parents.
"I mean," he started. "I sat an hour and a half with a teacher telling me, well, this child has got serial men coming through the house, this one has two mommies, this one has an abusive father whose home, this has alcoholism, this one has drug abuse. It was a casualty warfare event to hear — just her classroom — how many dysfunctional, atypical — to me — uh, structures are in the way of a kid having a chance to learn."
Equality Florida condemned Baxley's comments in a statement at the time, demanding an apology from the Republican legislator.
In 2008, Florida Republican lawmakers put forth a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage called Amendment 2. The state already prohibited same-sex marriages, but Republicans feared that judges might overturn the law and therefore wanted to enshrine the ban in the state's constitution.
At the time, Baxley said he wasn't concerned about straight couples in domestic partnerships being affected by the amendment. However, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Baxley was more concerned with the unknown consequences of legalized same-sex marriage, saying liberal social laws in Europe have led to lower birth rates and an influx of immigrants to supplement the workforce.
"You see them having this culture clash with people from Muslim countries that are flooding their countries," he said. "America is the last hope for possibly Western civilization as we know it, and this issue is the cornerstone for that transition."
Amendment 2 was passed by voters in the 2008 election, the same election that ushered in Barack Obama’s presidency and the beginning of the modern advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S.
In 2015, Baxley supported a measure in the Florida House of Representatives that would have allowed private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with LGBTQ+ parents.
Orlando Weekly reported that the idea was to incentivize people to adopt children and overhaul the foster care system in Florida. Part of the legislation would repeal a law — one ruled unconstitutional five years prior — that declared adoption by same-sex couples illegal in Florida.
But another representative proposed a new bill that would have let agencies refuse to place children with gay and lesbian families if doing so would violate the agency's beliefs. Those agencies would still be allowed to collect public funds.
Baxley, who had voted for the original measure, wanted a do-over on his vote, Orlando Weekly reported.
"I don't hate anybody," Baxley said at the time, according to Orlando Weekly. "I don't want to discriminate against anybody. I'm not phobic, but I simply can't affirm homosexuality. My compass won't go there, knowing what I know biblically."
"I could save some kids, but that rationale breaks down in the bigger picture," Think Progress reported Baxley said. "And so in prayer and in a moment of moral clarity the next morning, it was just, 'Dennis, you've affirmed homosexuality, that won't work. You can't be there.'"
The measure passed the state House, but the state Senate stripped the antigay language out of its version.
Similar to the Idaho bill that advanced this week that would limit the medical care transgender minors can access, the supposed “small government” conservative supports the government reaching into some people's medical decisions. In 2020, he sponsored the state Senate sister bill to State Rep. Anthony Sabatini's Vulnerable Child Protection Act. The bill failed to move out of committee.
The bill would have made it a second-degree felony for a health care provider to provide gender-affirming care to minors.
"No parent should be allowed to sterilize, castrate or permanently disfigure a child," Baxley wrote on Facebook at the time, according to Daily Commercial.
In 2020, Republican lawmakers in Florida submitted a tranche of anti-LGBTQ+ bills hours before the year's legislative deadline, including one affirming the legality of the controversial practice of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is a widely debunked grouping of practices that seek to chain someone's sexuality or gender identity. It ranges from "praying the gay away" to electroshock therapy. The practice has been widely criticized almost every major medical organization and found to be abusive, sometimes leading to death by suicide. Many states, cities, and counties have passed laws banning its use on minors.
Baxley defended his support for the last-minute legislation.
"These are very different topics. My sole interest is the well-being of a child. I'm not trying to address the whole phenomena of how we're adapting to the changes in mores and views on LBGTQ community," Baxley told ABC News. "I don't share their views, but I have no condemnation of anyone, OK. To me, those are personal issues."
In April of last year, Baxley came under fire for his comments about transgender people. Daily Commercial reported that Baxley supported the so-called Fairness in Women's Sports Act, which required students to compete as their sex assigned at birth.
Baxley had spoken on the issue, saying, "I can stand out here in the garage all day, convinced that I am an automobile. But it doesn't make me an automobile."
Baxley was widely criticized for his comments. A group of demonstrators gathered outside Baxley's Lady Lake, Fla., office to rally against his support for controversial legislation concerning transgender students' participation in youth sports.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Baxley has five children, two of whom are adopted. Baxley is a funeral director, a profession that his son Justin Baxley carries on, according to the website for the family’s funeral services business.