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What It's Like to Be an LGBTQ+ High Schooler in DeSantis's Florida

What It's Like to Be an LGBTQ+ High Schooler in DeSantis's Florida

high school student
Photo by Jeswin Thomas via Pexels

I’m directly affected by the authoritarian policies of our ambitious and ruthless governor.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s war against “woke-ism” — or equality and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color — finds its battlefield in public schools. I should know, since it’s affecting me directly as a high school student in Flager Beach, Fla.

In our libraries and classrooms, we are seeing the erasure of queer and BIPOC voices that mirror the actions taken by fascist and authoritarian regimes throughout history.

In Florida, and other parts of the country, library shelves are being emptied. Teachers are threatened with felony charges for carrying books that Florida’s extremist right-wing government finds “offensive.” Some staff members are fired for daring to show the world what is happening in schools.

Now, the governor is claiming the ongoing book banning is a hoax. As a Florida high school student, I can tell you that it’s real, and it’s happening in schools across our state.

At just 17 years old, I’m too young to vote. But, like many in my generation, I’ve been the target of extremist actions by our Governor.

Beginning with DeSantis’s reign of terror over LGBTQ+ students with the “don’t say gay" law, his weaponizing of school boards to censor queer-centered literature outraged students of all backgrounds. Then came the “Stop WOKE Act,” aimed at preventing the fictional instruction of critical race theory that, in effect, censors discussions of slavery and the civil rights movement. He’s even ridiculed the LGBTQ+ community in campaign mailers.

Rather than solving some of the issues that directly affect Floridians, like rising housing costs or increasing gun violence, our governor has turned his attention to bullying the most vulnerable communities.

It is painfully clear that DeSantis’s goal is not to govern, but rather to create a moral panic among conservative voters, while stripping marginalized people of the little representation they fought so long to receive.

As part of the LGBTQ+ community myself, it was terrifying to see members of my own school board proposing banning books, simply because they were written by authors who speak to my very existence. But the thing about Gen Z is that we are passionate about the injustices we witness and vocal against its perpetrators. As such, my friends and I formed a political advocacy group, “Recall FCSB” (Flager County School Board), to channel the anger of our peers into political influence.

We protested school board meetings that became a battleground on LGBTQ+ rights, attracting the attention of a far-right registered hate group, The Three Percenters — equipped with tactical armor and weapons. They appeared, clad in black with their faces disguised by masks; these men hurled slurs, threatened us as well as our families, and even tried to follow us home. Even in the face of aggressive, abusive instigators aiming to intimidate us, our resolve only strengthened.

This is the reality that DeSantis created in Florida, and one that he threatens to implement nationwide. As we approach the 2024 presidential campaign season, it is all but inevitable our governor will soon announce his bid for the highest office.

Today, Florida students like me are feeling the impact of his hateful agenda. But should he take up the highest office in our nation, there’s no telling just how outrageous things could get. School board meetings where extremist groups threaten the safety of the students standing up for themselves may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, Republicans rally behind DeSantis as the leader who will return their party to normalcy in its post-Trump era. The only difference between Trump and DeSantis is the latter’s improved politicking. In conversations with his supporters, I have often heard DeSantis be characterized as essentially “Trump with better political skills and without the drama.” In other words, he is a man with Trump’s extremist agenda, but equipped with the ability to successfully act on it. That is truly a terrifying combination.

We will never forget the images of violence and destruction levied against our nation’s Capitol, all instigated by Trump. I cannot even begin to fathom the destruction a DeSantis presidency will bring to American democracy, given his history of anti-democratic actions to tighten his grip on power.

Ron DeSantis does not represent a tamer GOP that we should welcome or embrace. He is a relentless tyrant who cares more about his political ambitions than serving his constituents — nothing is more MAGA than that.

Cameron Driggers is a high school student, co-founder of Recall FCSB, and lives in Flagler Beach, Fla.

Views expressed in The Advocate'sopinion 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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Cameron Driggers