Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the most anti-LGBTQ+ politician in the U.S. who has built his personal brand on “Don’t Say Gay” laws, is now under fire from all sides for attacking Donald Trump for being pro-LGBTQ+ in a campaign ad.
As PGN has reported over two years, DeSantis has provided a national template for banning sexual orientation and gender identity from classrooms, and banning transgender women and girls from female sports and restrooms by invoking the protection of children and women’s spaces.
Trump was the most virulently anti-LGBTQ+ president in U.S. history, as PGN reported extensively throughout the four years of his presidency. Trump fomented anti-LGBTQ+ policies through his education secretary Betsy DeVos, HHS secretary and most declaratively, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Trump was called out by the New York Times editorial board in 2017 in “The L.G.B.T. Trump Fallacy.” The editorial board wrote that “the nomination of several key officials, who have disparaged the L.G.B.T. community and sought to curtail the rights of its members, has exposed the narrative that Mr. Trump would be a champion of gay and transgender people as a fallacy.”
The Times quoted Mara Keisling, then-executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality who they called “a leading strategist behind a string of legal and policy victories the community achieved during the Obama administration.” The Times quoted Keisling saying, “It is a catastrophe. Every twitch we’ve seen from the administration has been anti-L.G.B.T.”
Yet knowing all of this, the DeSantis team went after Trump, whose lead over DeSantis is growing, as pro-LGBTQ+ and touted DeSantis’s well-known anti-LGBTQ+ bona fides.
That even Republicans were aghast at the presentation speaks to the homophobia inherent in the video, which is more than a minute long. DeSantis, who has teamed with supporter and former Twitter CEO Elon Musk, was crafted by Twitter’s @ProudElephantUS, a pro-DeSantis account. It was shared by the DeSantis War Room, the campaign’s “rapid response” team on the final day of Pride Month, stirring immediate controversy.
The video has since garnered more than 24 million views.
“To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it,” the War Room tweet reads.
The video opens with a clip of then-candidate Trump pledging to “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens” in a speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The RNC was held soon after what was then the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded 53.
The Trump quote is followed by some clips of Trump saying he’d let Caitlyn Jenner use the women’s room at Trump Tower and that he’d let trans women compete in the Miss Universe pageant, which he co-owned until 2015.
There are clips of Trump holding a rainbow flag, his campaign website’s “LGBTQ for Trump” T-shirts and his 2019 tweet celebrating Pride Month. A drag queen called “Lady MAGA” appears on screen, saying “Make America Great Again.”
All these scenes take place prior to the 2016 primary.
After this intro, the video is all DeSantis. DeSantis with lasers beaming out of eyes, with the image NO. This is followed by headlines about DeSantis’ policies, like “DeSantis Signs ‘Most Extreme Slate of Anti-Trans Laws in Modern History'” and “Pride event in St. Cloud canceled after DeSantis signs ‘Protection of Children Act’ into law.”
There are some random movie clips that have an oddly homoerotic tone — Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in “Wolf of Wall Street” and Brad Pitt as Achilles in “Troy.” These are followed by bodybuilders and “Gigachad.” Throughout, DeSantis strides through, signs legislation and rides in a helicopter.
As if that messaging isn’t clear enough that DeSantis is manly enough to take on the gays, there’s a voiceover of pundits and newscasts attacking DeSantis’s actions, including a description of “some of the harshest, most draconian laws that literally threaten trans existence.”
The only false note in the video is the misrepresentation of Trump as pro-LGBTQ+. The rest is accurate — DeSantis’s laws and policies are indeed draconian and he has made attacking LGBTQ+ people central to his campaign and his governorship.
Yet the outrage spanned both parties, drawing criticism from DeSantis’s Republican challengers, all of whom are touting similarly anti-LGBTQ+ policies except for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. There were also critiques from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), the nation’s largest conservative LGBTQ+ political action group which previously endorsed Trump. On Twitter, LCR said that DeSantis’s rhetoric had “ventured into homophobic territory,” calling it “divisive and desperate.”
Charles Moran, the group’s president, told Morning Edition on NPR that the ad does not have a clear point or purpose.
“You’ve got some strange imagery of Ron DeSantis being between two oiled-up, hunky type of men,” Moran said. “I mean, the ad smacked of both homophobia and homoeroticism at the same time.”
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has endorsed Trump for president but vocally supported Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill on the campaign trail last year, told The Hill that he now feels that he was “used” and misled by DeSantis.
“I used to think he was a great governor,” Santos, the first non-incumbent gay Republican elected to Congress, said of DeSantis. “Now, I’m starting to think differently.”
Secretary Buttigieg, who cannot speak directly to DeSantis’s campaign video due to the Hatch Act, told CNN, “I’m going to leave aside the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you in between oiled-up shirtless bodybuilders and just get to the bigger issue that is on my mind whenever I see this stuff in the policy space.”
Buttigieg told Dana Bash on State of the Union, “Which is, again, who are you trying to help? Who are you trying to make better off? And what public policy problems do you get up in the morning thinking about how to solve?”
The video ad was still on Twitter in the War Room account at press time. PGN reached out to the DeSantis campaign for comment, but did not receive a reply.