Florida’s Culture War Makes LGBT Residents Feel Like Targets

Over the past two years, Florida has followed legislative trends in other red states, passing similar laws — around the same time — relating to protests, voting and, more recently, LGBTQ issues.

For Jacksonville residents and other Floridians who consider themselves LGBTQ or allied, the laws feel like an assault on their identity. They fear that others are on the way.

The state legislature often finds itself downstream of culture war issues, with the latest examples — the Stop WOKE Act and Parental Rights in Education — are set to pass the Florida Senate on Monday after being passed by the State House the previous week.

Both bills are meant to restrict speech in classrooms, which supporters of the legislation say harms children. Parents have the right to direct the education of their children, they say.

The Stop WOKE Act – short for “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees” – targets lessons and training that may make someone feel bad or guilty because of their race, nationality or gender . The Parental Rights in Education Bill – derided by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill – bans the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 grades and prohibits related discussions at higher levels based on how a parent or school interprets “developmentally appropriate.”

“We see a lot of focus on transgender, telling kids they may be able to choose genders and all that,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday in Jacksonville, defending the parental rights bill in education. “I don’t think parents want that.”

A spokeswoman for the governor, Christina Pushaw, suggested on Twitter that opponents of the bills were grooming children for pedophiles, “or at least you’re not speaking out against grooming 4-8 year olds,” she said. she declared.

America has a long history of LGBTQ opponents linking homosexuality or being transgender with pedophilia and bestiality in order to discredit their movement. The SPLC blasted Pushaw on Monday and called on her to resign.

“It is despicable and shameful that Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, should so grossly slander and defame an entire community to push unpopular legislation forward,” Scott McCoy, acting deputy general counsel for the SPLC Action Fund, said in a statement.

Quoting the alliance for childrenthe SPLC has defined “grooming” as the “calculated and gradual process by which an abuser sexually abuses a child. It is a horrifically planned and manipulative act that makes victims of sexual abuse complacent and adds a extra layer of protection for the attacker.”

“Unsurprisingly, Pushaw’s tweet is just another dog whistle in the ongoing efforts to demonize and erase the existence of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement read.

Likewise, LGBTQ advocates acknowledge the political realities of Florida.

Although Florida is often considered a hotly contested “purple” state in presidential elections, it has had one-party rule of its legislature and governor’s office for more than two decades.

Brooklyn Owens is a Jacksonville LGBTQ rights activist and trans woman who gained national attention for a college fund that was started for her after her parents kicked her out over her identity. She says she’s not worried about the wider community if the bills become law.

She worries about the students who will feel ostracized.

“My problem with this is not that this is an attempted gay referendum in Florida. My biggest problem with the [Parental Rights in Education] bill is that it creates a very dangerous environment for children,” she said, praising her ninth grade biology teacher for making her feel accepted and safe at school.

“I was that child. I was that child who desperately needed a teacher to protect my safety because of the harmful and toxic environment I found myself in at home, and this bill would prevent that teacher to do.”

The deterrent effect has already occurred in some schools on the First Coast. A new St. Johns County School District policy has some teachers worried they will be forced to turn their students over to their parents. A similar statewide measure was removed from the Parental Rights in Education Bill after it was originally introduced as an amendment.

The legislation, as passed by the State House, still requires parents to be notified of similar developments with their child, but it stipulates that school administrators must withhold such information if they have reasonable grounds to believe that this would lead to abuse or abandonment at home.

It is possible, once law, for legislation to be challenged in court. The state is already embroiled in two related legal challenges: An appeals court is considering the case of Drew Adams, a trans man who was barred from using the men’s restroom as a St. Johns County student in 2017, and a ban on trans women playing in women’s sports. A South Florida freshman is challenging the law after she was barred from joining her high school’s women’s soccer team because she was assigned male at birth.

In the latter case, DeSantis signed the trans athlete ban into law last year on the first day of Pride Month. Florida is one of 10 states – and among the most recent – to enact such a ban.

Some deep red states bucked the trend. Republican governors in Kansas, North Dakota and Utah have vetoed bills to ban trans athletes.

The trans girl at the center of the South Florida football trial had been on hormones and receiving gender-affirming treatment for more than a year at the start of the lawsuit, which was filed when she was 13 in June latest.

In Texas, Governor Gregg Abbott tried to criminalize gender-affirming care for minors. Given the speed at which Florida has followed Texas and other red states in passing LGBTQ-related legislation, activists are concerned about a similar move coming to the Sunshine State.

“I work with parents of transgender youth in [Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network]. I’ve already heard a few of them talk about what’s happening in Texas, and they’re terrified that something like this could happen in Florida,” said Dan Merkan, director of policy at JASMYN.

According to Merkan, the outcome of continued legislation in this vein could spell out long-term negative outcomes for LGBTQ youth.

“This could have very serious implications, ranging from providing safe and inclusive classrooms for young LGBT students, LGBT students or parents, feeling their identity is being erased,” he said. . “These bills are being pushed all over the country, and they’re making hay out of nothing, LGBT people are your neighbors, they’re in your schools. We’ve gotten along great for most of the last decade. This n just isn’t right.”

The Parental Rights in Education and Stop WOKE bills are both expected to pass the Senate along party lines this week. DeSantis has indicated he plans to sign both.

Helen D. Jessen