Florida Takes a Step Backward with ‘Don’t Say Gay’


Gage Skidmore

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at CPAC.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s most recent socially conservative policy, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, completely censors LGBTQ-related discussions in schools. The legislature ensures that such topics are eliminated from the pedagogical arena until the third grade; older students may only engage in conversations related to sexual orientation or gender identity when deemed “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate”. While the vague wording of the law makes it impossible to tell what education around the subject will actually be permitted, one might suspect teachers, who are at risk of professional retribution if found violating the law, to abandon such discussions completely for the sake of self-preservation.

The bill bestows more influence to parents, who may sue school districts if dissatisfied with their teachings—this is also why, in the effort to avoid costly legal battles, many schools have started removing books related to LGBTQ topics from their libraries. Under the new legislation, educational institutions must also inform children’s parents if they request mental health services. Consequently, it removes the role schools play as a safe haven for students, who may be uncomfortable facilitating these critical conversations at home, to question gender identity or sexual orientation with parents who may not be accepting of either of those things. Effectively, the law marks LGBTQ identity a taboo subject, inappropriate for the classroom. 

What limited defense of the legislation has surfaced is, as one may assume, completely absurd and illogical: DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw has chastised opponents of the bill for not “[denouncing] the grooming of 4-8 year old children”. There are several things wrong with this. When did discussing divergence from heteronormativity become a form of sexual exploitation? In fact, one should recognize this commonly deployed right-wing rhetoric of demonizing opponents as pedophilia sympathizers—the GOP’s recent line of questioning against Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, for example, attacked Jackson’s sentencing of child pornography offenders, though Jackson’s convictions fall in the range of the judicial mainstream. And of course, underpinning her allegation lies Pushaw’s more sinister implication, that while heterosexual relationships are benign, acknowledging non-heteronormativity immediately runs the risk of child exploitation. By claiming that grooming is a symptom of LGBTQ+ existence, conservatives perpetuate the myth that gay or transgender people are more likely to commit acts of sexual violence, which has been used as the grounds of trans-phobic arguments; such as, for instance, the allegation that cisgender women are threatened by trans-inclusive bathroom policies, which has been proven empirically untrue.

The debate surrounding the bill is redolent of the teaching critical race theory controversy, which many conservatives have opposed. Instead, they have pushed for the use of the 1776 Commission—which peddles the right-wing ‘woke authoritarian’ narrative, defines ‘progressivism’ as fascist, and Jim Crow racism as analogous to modern-day ‘identity politics’—in place of The New York Times’ 1619 Project. 

Likewise, the new law serves a similar function: stifling conversation that aligns with a socially progressive societal vision, in which pluralism and tolerance are promoted. The discussions the legislature forbids are vital, especially in the educational domain, to ensure that young people feel welcome to express their identity openly without fear of judgment or discrimination. In order to foster a social environment in which all students are equally recognized and represented, such rules cannot be permitted. Ironically, DeSantis claims the new law means schools can return to providing “an education, not an indoctrination”, which is funny, considering the governor, who is responsible for one of this century’s most abhorrent political advertisements, has not attempted to mask his support of indoctrination of the youth in the past—that is, as long as it’s in the form of reading newborns The Art of the Deal or teaching them to build a wall out of toy bricks.