Analysis: Ron DeSantis’s War on LGBTQ People

Ron DeSantis speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. "Ron DeSantis" by Gage Skidmore is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is positioning himself for a presidential run in 2024. DeSantis is, unquestionably, using LGBTQ people to bolster his conservative bona fides with an increasingly extremist Republican base.

On July 1, in advance of the Florida school year which begins this month, DeSantis’s notorious Parental Rights in Education law, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law was implemented. The law forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. That bill has received harsh criticism from LGBTQ advocates and civil libertarians who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people. The law has even pitted DeSantis against Florida’s largest employer, Disney.

The law also stipulates that any instruction at any age follow requirements to be set out by the state’s board of education and makes parental permission a prerequisite for a range of mental-health counseling and interventions. It also grants parent groups rights to sue school districts if they think teachers or administrators are not complying with the law.

The legislation is part of a new wave of “parental control” laws that have become a motivator among GOP politicians who argue that parents, not teachers, should be deciding what students should be allowed to learn in the classroom. 

The law bans classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” according to the law’s language.

President Biden weighed in on the Florida law on Twitter, writing, “Every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom. Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve to be affirmed and accepted just as they are. My Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.” 

More than 6 in 10 Americans oppose legislation that would prohibit classroom lessons about sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll

A challenge to the law has been filed in federal court in Tallahassee by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of Equality Florida, alleging the law violates the First Amendment and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution. 

While talking about why he feels the “Don’t Say Gay” law is so important, DeSantis said July 27,  “This will be for elementary school kids where they are instructed to tell them, ‘Well you may have been born a boy that may have what you said, but maybe you’re really a girl’. That is wrong.”

DeSantis added, “That has no place in schools. That is happening in our country. Anyone that tells you it’s not happening is lying to you.”

But it isn’t happening, and the lie is from DeSantis himself. Nowhere does DeSantis explain who the “they” are who are alleged to be instructing the 86 percent of K-8 teachers who are female in elementary schools to tell boys they are girls. 

In response to The Recount posting video of DeSantis making these outlandish claims, Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Democratic congressman Charlie Crist tweeted, “I’m Charlie Crist, a Democrat running to remove and replace DeSantis in the governor’s mansion this November. Under my leadership, we’ll take politics out of the classroom and our schools will be a safe space for students, free of far-right political agendas.” 

But DeSantis’s agenda is consistent and brutal. On July 28, the day after he claimed that young boys were being forced to become girls by their female teachers, DeSantis approved sweeping anti-LGBTQ policy from the Florida education department.

In a memo, the agency told state schools to “ignore nondiscrimination guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Agriculture” that the Biden administration had ordered last year.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz told school districts they should not change current practices because of proposed new rules under Title IX that would extend sexual discrimination protections to students based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Nothing in these guidance documents requires you to give biological males who identify as female access to female bathrooms, locker rooms, or dorms… or to allow biological males who identify as female to compete on female sports teams,” Diaz said.

Diaz added that doing any of those things would “jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of Florida students and risk violating Florida law.”

DeSantis’ office expressed its support in the education department’s memo in a statement to ABC News. 

“The governor’s office fully supports the Florida Department of Education in its position on these proposed rule changes and stands with Commissioner Diaz in refusing to allow the federal government and the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture to hold vulnerable students hostage to their political agenda,” said DeSantis’s office.

There’s more. Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) has proposed a ban on Medicaid coverage for gender affirmation for trans and nonbinary youth. The proposal would ban puberty blockers, hormones, sex reassignment surgeries, and “any other procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics.”

This would effectively stop trans youth from transitioning and, in cases where that process has already begun, force them to detransition.

Under review by the AHCA is whether the panoply of gender-affirming care is accepted medical practice under the “Generally Accepted Professional Medical Standards” for trans Medicaid recipients.

Concomitant with this proposal, Florida’s health department has demanded that the Florida Board of Medicine restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth, the Health News Service of Florida reported August 2. 

The Florida Board of Medicine is slated August 5 to consider a proposal by DeSantis’s administration to bar physicians from providing treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty-blocking medication to transgender youths, the news service reported.

Signed by Department of Health General Counsel John Wilson, the petition to the Board of Medicine pointed to what it said was a “lack of quality evidence and certainly no conclusive research to support the medical transition of children to the opposite gender as a treatment for gender dysphoria.”

“Children do not possess the cognitive or emotional maturity to comprehend the consequences of these invasive and irreversible procedures,” the petition said.

In April, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued a statement saying that HHS guidelines were political, not medical. “It was about injecting political ideology into the health of our children,” Ladapo said. “Children experiencing gender dysphoria should be supported by family and seek counseling, not pushed into an irreversible decision before they reach 18.”

Ladapo has also come out strongly against masks and vaccines for children, claiming they are harmful and unproven. 

The federal government defines gender dysphoria clinically as “significant distress that a person may feel when sex or gender assigned at birth is not the same as their identity.”

Lambda Legal attorney Carl Charles said, “Treatments targeted in the proposal are “clinically effective, evidence-based and widely accepted and used by medical professionals across the country for treating gender dysphoria.” 

Charles said last month that the Florida proposal “will cause serious, immediate and irreparable harm to transgender Medicaid participants in Florida who have already experienced well-documented and pervasive stigma and discrimination in their day-to-day lives, including significant challenges, if not all-out barriers, to accessing competent home-care services.” 

DeSantis also resurrected a 1947 law against crossdressing to implement against Miami’s R House restaurant to revoke the restaurant’s liquor license after a video surfaced of children attending a drag brunch there. 

In the complaint against the Miami restaurant, DeSantis alleged R House violated state law and cited a 1947 state Supreme Court ruling that “men impersonating women” in a “suggestive and indecent” fashion is a public nuisance. 

In June, Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini tweeted he would be proposing legislation that would make it a felony and terminate the parental rights of “any adult who brings a child to these perverted sex shows.” 

The impact of DeSantis’s war on LGBTQ people and his harmful policies against queer and trans youth is already being felt as harassment and hate crimes against LGBTQ people and businesses are reportedly on the rise in Florida. 

Speaking recently to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, DeSantis was cheered as he called Florida a “Citadel of freedom.”

He said, “We’re going to lead the charge here in Florida, but we need people all over the country to be willing to put on that full armor of God, to stand firm against the left schemes.” 

DeSantis continued, “I can tell you this in Florida, we will be standing our ground, and will be holding that line. We are not going to back down. We’ve accomplished more in this state than anyone thought possible. But I can tell you this, we have only begun to fight.”

Polls put DeSantis as second behind Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination.

Newsletter Sign-up
Previous articleEditorial Cartoon: “Getting to First Base”
Next articleCreep of the Week: Ted Cruz
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.