Analysis: Why is the GOP obsessed with LGBTQ kids?

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.

Charlie Crist, a native Pennsylvanian, won the Democratic gubernatorial race in the August 23 Florida primary. In November he will have the opportunity to beat incumbent GOP governor Ron DeSantis, who won in 2018 by less than half a point and only 32,000 votes out of nine million cast.

Crist is a former Republican, turned Democrat in 2012. He’s a congressman for Florida’s 13th district, a seat he’s held since 2017. He was governor of Florida before, from 2007 to 2011 and served as Florida AG under Jeb Bush. 

Why should Pennsylvanians care about this race when they have their own governor’s race to worry about? Florida matters because DeSantis is arguably the most anti-LGBTQ politician in the U.S. and he’s also polling second after Donald Trump for the GOP 2024 presidential nomination. Republicans like what DeSantis is selling, and that’s bad for women and LGBTQ people.

DeSantis is the biggest purveyor of the false narrative that elementary school teachers (86% of whom are female) are “grooming” children to be gay and trans. The “grooming” narrative, that all gay people are pedophiles trying to indoctrinate children, was popularized by the Religious Right in the 1980s and has been revived by DeSantis and other GOP electeds. 

Back in March, when the Florida legislature was debating the “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, tweeted out comments that opponents to the bill were either “groomers — people who help “groom” children for pedophiles and other abusers — or support groomers.

It was a stunning accusation directly from the governor’s office. “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw tweeted.

She also tweeted, “If you’re against the anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4- to 8-year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

Pushaw told the Florida Politics news outlet,“So those who want to teach 3- to 8-year-olds about sex are either groomers, don’t want to protect kids from groomers, or have not read the bill but have been misled by the DNC media’s despicable campaign of lies repeating the baseless Democratic branding ‘don’t say gay.’” 

There was considerable pushback against Pushaw’s accusations. Equality Florida, the largest LGBTQ rights advocacy organization in Florida, called the tweets a “bigoted anti-LGBTQ rant.” Democratic legislators demanded an apology from Pushaw and DeSantis; others called for Pushaw’s resignation.

Fast forward to now and DeSantis has set the tone for the GOP with this grooming narrative that has expanded to assert that teachers are inculcating kids with ideology that says they must claim either a gay identity or switch genders. On July 27, while talking about why he feels the “Don’t Say Gay” law is so important, DeSantis said, “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 “they” are allegedly instructing the 86 percent of K to 8 teachers who are female in elementary schools to tell boys they are girls. 

It sounds implausible that a major political figure would tout such an obvious lie and yet DeSantis not only keeps repeating it, but other Republicans, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (another purported GOP presidential hopeful for 2024) are adopting this narrative. The Texas GOP platform is full of similar false narratives about LGBTQ people and demands of schools with regard to what can and cannot be taught in classrooms. 

Another insidious aspect of these GOP narratives is concomitant laws targeting queer and trans youth. As PGN has reported throughout the year, more than 300 bills have proliferated in state legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s. At least a third of these bills focus on medical care for trans and queer youth, with many blocking gender-affirming care. Others prohibit trans kids from playing sports on teams linked to their gender identity rather than their birth assignment. 

The fixation on gender identity has spilled over from political opportunists like DeSantis and Abbott into local school boards. In addition to pushing for banning books that address gay and trans identities, parents are now questioning the gender identities of students. On August 17 it was revealed that a Utah high school had investigated whether a female student was actually trans after she won a statewide competition, according to Deseret News. 

Pivoting off concerns over the wins by University of Pennsylvania NCAA trans swimming champion Lia Thomas, the Utah parents of students who finished second and third complained to the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) that the winning girl must have once been a biological boy to win. 

In the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee on August 17, it was revealed that the UHSAA asked a student-athlete’s school to open the girl’s enrollment records dating back to kindergarten to confirm she was female. The investigation — which neither the girl, nor her parents were made aware of — revealed that the student had been born female.

“The school went back to kindergarten and she’d always been a female,” said David Spatafore, the UHSAA’s legislative representative. 

Spatafore said the UHSAA had gotten complaints about other athletes including statements like “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”

To protect the student’s identity, Spatafore said he would not reveal the sport, the classification of play nor the school the student attended.

Spatafore said, “The association took every one of those complaints seriously. We followed up on all of those complaints with the school and the school system.” Spatafore’s comments were made during an update on HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports. 

In June, Ohio state GOP legislators passed a bill to exclude “suspected” transgender female athletes with genital inspection. The “Save Women’s Sports Act,” or House Bill 61, comes with a “verification process” of checking the genitals of those “accused” of being trans. 

Democratic Ohio state Rep. Dr. Beth Liston said of the bill, “I struggle to understand why we keep discussing bills focusing on children’s genitals.” Under HB61, if a student is “suspected to be transgender,” they must endure evaluations of their external and internal genitalia, and have their testosterone levels and genetic makeup checked.

Liston said, “This is truly bizarre medically and nonsensical, but looking at it practically, this bill means that if anyone decides to question a child’s true gender, that child must undergo a sensitive exam.”

The question then is, where does this end? The GOP is making grooming accusations of female teachers and now parents are claiming every girl who beats their daughter in a sporting event is trans and must have their genitalia inspected. To say this is a slippery slope that is directly harmful to women, girls and all LGBTQ people is to understate the situation. Yet it seems that the only way to stop this trend is to end the careers of the GOP electeds who push these narratives and make policy based on false notions.

It’s a little over two months until election day, and many of these politicians, like DeSantis and Abbott, are up for re-election. If they are re-elected, what does that mean for LGBTQ people? If they are re-elected, who will protect queer and trans youth, as well as cisgender girls, from the real predators: the GOP.

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