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DeSantis on LGBTQ+ right
Opaque in definition, clear in intent

By DIxon Gao-Cheung (he/they)


Image: New York TImes

DeSantis Signs Florida Bill That Opponents Call 

'Don't Say Gay'

Presidential hopeful and governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, aspires to escalate his war on “woke” to the national level. Since being elected Florida’s governor in 2019, he has fought what he terms the “woke mind virus” with culturally regressive legislation. Amidst a Republican controlled state Senate and House, the governor, who himself was comfortably reelected with nearly 60% of the vote in 2022, was able to push through a series of unabated conservative policies including bans on trans women in women’s sports, bans on transgender treatments for minors and restrictions on LGBTQ+ inclusion in school curriculums.

Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ rights organisation, stated in May 2021 that that year had been the worst for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation since 2015 with 17 anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law by May alone. Of these 17, 7 were anti-trans sports bans. DeSantis upped the figure to 8 on 1/6/2021, the first day of pride month.

Florida’s 2021 “Fairness in Women’s Sports” act bases eligibility for women’s sports on biological sex assigned at birth, preventing trans women from participating in sports in women’s competitions. Without any regard to measures such as hormone levels , this policy bases its judgement solely off the identity of its subject as a trans woman rather than considering what would be most fair.

An earlier version of the bill required that students have their genitalia examined.

Whilst these most disturbing elements have been amended, this bill of exclusivity allows students to sue their educational institutions if they suffered “direct or indirect harm” as a result of a trans woman’s participation in women’s sports. It’s a vague condition open to interpretation and potential abuse by those with transphobic agendas.

Nikki Fried, then Agriculture Commissioner of Florida and now Chair of the Florida Democratic Party claimed that “By signing a heartless ban on transgender kids in sports, Governor DeSantis is marginalising an entire community. Signing it on the first day of Pride Month is especially cruel”.

Turning his gaze to education, DeSantis moved to sign the“Parental Rights in Education'' act in March 2022, which is legally hazy but clear in intent. It has been commonly referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay'' bill due to its erasure of LGBTQ+ issues from the classroom curriculum.

For instance, the bill prohibits “classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3” and in a further, more opaque condition, classroom instruction must be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.

By cementing an ignorance of LGBTQ+ issues, “Don’t Say Gay'' legislation incubates a hostile atmosphere for the queer community. Discrimination may not be combated. On the contrary, positive and active discussion of LGBTQ+ culture may be seen as more of a taboo.

If parents believe that schools aren’t teaching in accordance with new regulation set out by the bill, they “may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgement” and in the case they receive declaratory or injunctive relief, protesting parents will receive compensation for attorney fees and may be awarded damages.

The Williams Institute, a research centre on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, reported in a survey on the effects & perceptions of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that when LGBTQ+ parents were asked “How worried are you about the effects of the Don’t Say Gay bill/law on your children and family?”, 88% of respondents were very or somewhat worried about the effects of the bill on their children and families.

Published Online: 02/10/2023

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