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Demoralizing, Destructive, Delusional DeSantis Has Gone Too Far

Demoralizing, Destructive, Delusional DeSantis Has Gone Too Far

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His pet project, "don't say gay," now expands to high school students.

Being in high school during the 1980s, sexuality was not discussed — at all. If the word gay was mentioned, it was meant as a slight, as an insult, and as a way to question your manliness. Most of my friends and classmates, who weren’t gay, laughed when you said to them, “You’re so gay!” However, when it was applied to me, I laughed, but was torn apart inside.

Humility aside, I was arguably the most popular boy in my class. I was senior class president, class clown, and biggest flirt — that latter being an overt act to subvert my sexuality, or in ‘80s parlance, my gayness. If I had come out during the early ‘80s in high school, I am sure that it would have affected my popularity. I know for sure, that behind my back, as we did with one guy in the class that we thought was gay, I would have been furiously derided.

When I finally did come out, most of my friends accepted me; yet, one day at his office, my stepfather received a call from a mother of one of my high school classmates who told him that I was going to burn in hell. It just validated, for me, my decision to keep my mouth shut about my sexuality.

Not talking about your sexuality, if your sexuality was other than hetero, was demoralizing and destructive. It still is; I thought those days were long gone since so many of this current generation are so open about who they are.

It’s been with a sense of pride that I have watched children of friends of mine come out, and their parents being so supportive. I know, 40 years ago, with me, that wouldn’t have been the case, but the fact that they are so open-minded with their own children is so heartening.

But that demoralization and destructiveness now has a chance of resurfacing at high schools in Florida. Today, the Florida Board of Education, shockingly extended Governor Ron DeSantis’s pride and joy piece of legislation, known as “don’t say gay” through high school. Regulatory, the extension bans lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity through 12th grade. Morally, it’s an outrage, and most parents I know, even from my generation, won’t approve. And more emphatically, this generation of high schoolers are not going to stand for it.

That does not mean there aren't outliers, and those parents — like the one who called my stepfather — and students are rejoicing at the extension of this discrimination. They will be the ones that will deride queer students mercilessly for being gay, bi, or trans, bully them because of their authenticity, devalue them as a person, and wish for them to be sent to hell. The 1980s version of high school quite possibly will be alive and well in Florida.

The ”don’t say gay” edict will inevitably be destructive to kids who feel like they must suppress their sexuality. We all know the repercussions of that. Mental health issues are already sky-high with many queer students, most of them in red states, and in Bible-toting communities. They suffer from depression, severe anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. To have to quash who you are, particularly at that age, is not just destructive, it’s catastrophic.

I reached out to Andrew Hartzler, who made news recently calling out the his sanctimonious aunt, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, who shed tears on the House floor while she urged her colleagues to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act, Hartzler, a former Oral Roberts University survivor, has become an LGBTQ+ youth activist. I asked him about the ramifications of youth hiding their sexuality.

"It’s difficult to put into words the pain that comes from existing in a non-affirming environment, especially when, at such a crucial turning point in one’s life that is from high school through college-age. For me, it was a constant balancing act of suppression and release, not knowing whom I could trust or when it was safe to exist as myself," Hartzler explained. "During high school, despite going to a Christian school that would expel me for 'acting on my sexuality,' it was still a more accepting environment than my home life."

Hartzler continued, "In the 7th grade, which shared a building with high school students, it was the first time someone told me it was okay to be gay. My speech and debate teacher, Mrs. Mussatti, said to me during lunch period, when I would often escape to her classroom, 'Being gay is okay. I’ll still love you. God will still love you.' It was a pivotal moment in my own self-acceptance. I took speech and debate as one of my electives through the 9th grade, which was her last year teaching at my school. For my last three years of high school, not having that crucial support from an adult took a tole on my health, both mentally and physically."

As I write this, I’m astounded that there are adults, like the destructive DeSantis, and his hand-picked demonic members of Florida’s board of education who think what they did today was “good for students.” And, who ignore the warnings from young students like Hartzler. Either they are abnormally obtuse, or utterly disgraceful. And if their purpose is to shine the shoes of DeSantis so he can run for president, today they splattered mud on his wingtips.

“The “don't say gay” law has wreaked havoc on Florida's schools, driven educators from the profession, caused families to consider relocating, and is making classrooms more hostile for LGBTQ young people,” explained Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor who works with Equality Florida, and spoke to me recently about the possibility of the law being extended.

Wolf added, “Books are being banned en masse. Conversations are being censored. Expanding this bigoted law through high school will exacerbate all of these issues and put the livelihoods of teachers on the line.”

“DeSantis has been pushing too far from the beginning. From the time this law was introduced, ripped right from the playbook of Vladimir Putin, it has been gross government overreach and targeted anti-LGBTQ animus. An expansion would be an escalation.”

Wolf said that already this year, there have been demonstrations across the state, including the arrival of hundreds of students to the state capitol in April. "They are all protesting this governor's blueprint for bigotry. Students are activated, engaged, and furious that DeSantis is torching freedom in his quest to win a GOP presidential nomination.”

The delusional DeSantis has pushed entirely too far, and I cannot wait to see how the students in Florida will continue to strike back, even more so now that the law affects them directly.

And, I'm anxious to see how the enterprising students around the country greet him when he comes to their states to campaign for president. If he thinks he’s going to get a hero’s welcome, he’s in for a huge surprise. Remember when you TikTokers RSVP'd in droves to Trump's rally in Tulsa, and embarrassed him mightily when no one showed up. I'm certain that they will be equally creative when it comes to f'ing up DeSantis.

Yes, the MAGA crowd may go along with "don't say gay," but that’s a very small percentage of voters in the Republican Party, and a very, very, very small percentage of voters who think we should be shutting the mouths of kids in high school.

And unless Trump ends up in prison, the MAGA folks consider DeSantis a Trump enemy, and he shouldn’t count on their vote because he’s stepping all over the LGBTQ+ community. If Trump does it, that's ok. If DeSantis does it, why then, he's trying to be like Trump, and there is no like Trump.

If a loving God has his way, it will be the delusional DeSantis who ends up demoralized, and more importantly, decommissioned.

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.