It’s official: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, taking his war on LGBTQ+ rights, inclusive education, reproductive freedom, and all that he considers “woke” nationwide.
DeSantis filed his intention to run on Wednesday, a variety of media outlets report.
To most LGBTQ+ people, the most infamous thing DeSantis has done is sign the “don’t say gay” bill into law last year. Sometimes referred to as “don’t say gay or trans,” the so-called Parental Rights in Education law bans instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools through eighth grade (thanks to a recent expansion of the measure) and restricts it thereafter. The Florida State Board of Education has extended the ban further, through 12th grade, but the legislative action has more force.
The bill that expanded “don’t say gay,” House Bill 1069, also says that sex is an “immutable biological trait” established at birth and that school employees and contractors can’t be required to use a person’s preferred pronouns if they don’t match the person’s birth sex.
DeSantis signed the expansion and three other anti-LGBTQ+ bills May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. During the signing, which took place at a Christian school, he promised to make Florida a “citadel of normalcy.”
The other bills he signed were Senate Bill 254, which bans gender-affirming care for transgender minors, making it a felony to provide such care, and threatens supportive parents with removal of a child from their custody; House Bill 1521, which restricts what bathrooms trans people can use in publicly owned buildings; and House Bill 1423, which restricts drag shows. Earlier in May, DeSantis had signed a “right to discriminate” bill allowing medical professionals to deny care to LGBTQ+ people and others who offend their moral and religious beliefs.
Among his other actions during the month was signing legislation that barred Florida’s public colleges and universities from spending federal or state funds on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. It also said these schools can’t offer general education courses that “distort significant historical events,” teach “identity politics,” or are “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, or economic inequities.”
At the signing ceremony, DeSantis attacked what he called “gender ideology.” “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley, go to some of these other places,” he said.
The ceremony was at New College of Florida in Sarasota, a small public liberal arts college noted for its general liberalism and high percentage of trans students. But DeSantis this year appointed a new, conservative board of trustees, including anti-LGBTQ+ activist Chris Rufo. The school’s faculty recently voted to censure the trustees, with faculty members saying the trustees are endangering the college’s mission.
DeSantis had attacked education the previous year by signing the Stop WOKE Act, restricting how concepts around race and gender can be taught in K-12 public schools as well as state-run colleges and universities — essentially, seeking to deny that racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia exist. The portion of it affecting higher education is blocked while a lawsuit against it proceeds.
The governor has also sought to limit reproductive freedom in Florida. In April, he signed a bill that would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — before many people know they’re pregnant. It will go into effect only if another state law, banning most abortions after 15 weeks, is upheld in court. However, the Florida Supreme Court, where it is pending, has a conservative majority.
DeSantis’s agenda could hurt Florida’s economy. The “don’t say gay” legislation led to a feud with Disney, one of the state’s largest employers, although many employees and activists thought Disney’s opposition to the measure was weak and belated. Just this month, Disney announced that it was canceling plans for a $1 billion corporate campus in the state.
The governor’s record further includes signing a trans-exclusionary school sports law, employing a press secretary who called LGBTQ+ people and allies “groomers,” support for book bans, threats to businesses hosting drag shows, loosening of gun regulations, and much more.
LGBTQ+ groups are already speaking out against his presidential run. “Media covering Gov. DeSantis must inform voters by including his ongoing record of discrimination, harmful legislation, vile rhetoric and economic failure in his relentless campaign against LGBTQ people and all Floridians from marginalized backgrounds,” said a statement from GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “The DeSantis record shows Florida is less safe, less free, and less prosperous, and is now best known for book bans, censorship, abortion bans, costly attacks against corporations’ free speech as well as academic freedom, and the stripping of parental rights. Media must challenge inaccurate slogans like ‘the free state of Florida’ when the governor’s record shows he moved to eliminate essential freedoms with his anti-people, anti-business, anti-democracy agenda.” Her organization has details about DeSantis’s record at the GLAAD Accountability Project.
“The damage that DeSantis has done to Florida’s reputation will outlast his political career,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. “His war on freedom and civil liberties is weighing heavily on the people of our state, forcing families to make tough decisions about whether to continue raising their children in Florida, educators to question remaining in the profession, and top talent to cross the state’s colleges and universities off the list. Equality Florida stands steadfast on the frontlines, resolute in our commitment to create an inclusive and secure Florida that embraces and safeguards the rights of all residents. Florida is the frontline, but this is a national battle for freedom.”
“Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House,” added Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ+ Victory Fund. "Not only does Governor DeSantis’ appalling record against LGBTQ+ people and communities of color disqualify him from the presidency, the rhetoric he will spew on the campaign trail as he and Donald Trump race to the bottom will have long-term consequences for our community and LGBTQ+ kids in particular. LGBTQ+ leaders are our best defense against hate, which is why his announcement is a rallying cry to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that we must redouble our efforts to elect pro-choice LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 and 2024. On Election Day, our message must be resounding: We are not going back.”