Summary: Discussion of the tendency toward fascism seen in Florida under Governor Ron DeSantis (R), a Republican controlled legislature, and a conservative Supreme Court — Editors
“Don’t Say Gay” and Transgender Exclusion
Florida’s HB 1557 or “Parental Rights in Education Act” – more commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” Law – bans the classroom discussion of topics relating to “sexual orientation or gender identity… [from] kindergarten to third grade.” Further, instruction may not be in a “manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The former clause is quite clear in what it restricts, thus “Don’t Say Gay.” The latter clause, though, leaves quite a bit of leeway for the Florida Department of Education.
Subsection 8 of the law, distastefully titled “Student Welfare,” states that school procedures must “reinforce the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children…”, an implied obligation of this subsection being that teachers and school administrators are to inform parents of concerns relating to a student’s “mental, physical, or emotional health and well-being…” The implication of the bill is that homosexuality, queerness, or identifying as transgender will fall under such broad terms.
Subsection 8 is outright cruelty and, in effect, stifles any non-heteronormative behavior within the gender binary at schools. As of 2021, a variety of avenues now exist wherein LGBTQ+ students from kindergarten to third grade in Florida may have their physical or mental safety jeopardized and their sexuality or gender-identification controlled by their parents. This law further grants parents the right to contest what is distributed throughout schools and allows parent access of all records pertaining to their student.
SB 1320, which is being debated in the Florida Senate (as of the end of March), is more far-reaching. Just at the beginning of the bill, sex is redefined under Florida Statutes for education all the way up to the college level. It defines sex as “the classification of a human person as being either male or female based on the organization of the body of such person for a specific reproductive role, as indicated by the person’s sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth.”
SB 1320 expands provisions of HB 1557 to prohibit any instruction on sexual orientation or identity from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. In addition, all high-school grade levels may only receive such instruction if it is “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” SB 1320 maintains such vagueness throughout and further requires approval by the Department of Education to teach classes on reproductive healthcare and sexual education. If the latter is offered, it must encourage a heteronormative lifestyle and abstinence until marriage. Further, it entirely outlaws the discussion of “preferred pronouns” and prohibits employees or contractors from using someone’s preferred pronouns or asking a colleague theirs.
Florida is not alone. Missouri is actually leading the charge with forty-eight Anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in 2023. The ACLU reports 451 Anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year in the U.S. It is only April, yet the number of Anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced this year is nearly more than 2021 and 2022 combined. One law in West Virginia, which goes into effect in June, defines sex and gender similarly to Florida and makes illegal virtually all forms of transgender healthcare for anyone under eighteen (HB 2007). The first bill on Tennessee’s agenda was of the same nature. Ten states, including Florida, have done so with Georgia enacting a partial ban. Nineteen other state legislatures have seen similar bills introduced.
Drag Queens and Shows Demonized
Another Florida bill of a similar color, SB 1438, criminalizes drag shows if there is a minor present. The bill’s restrictions have been likened to an NC-17 movie rating, meaning a parent’s consent does not allow the admission of anyone seventeen and under.
This is part of Governor DeSantis’s efforts to, he claims, protect children from sexualized content, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Other Republicans and right-wingers are more blatant with their bigotry, referring to drag queens as sex offenders seeking to convert their children. This is not a new attack leveled at LGBTQ+ people, but it is nonetheless an alarming one.
Videos of drag queens reading books to children in libraries were construed into attempts to sexualize or perhaps infect young children with a ‘queer agenda.’ Deep-fakes – or digital images or videos which appear quite real but have been heavily edited and forged exquisitely – have been made showing children at drag shows which do feature sexual overtures; however, in reality no children were or are allowed to be present.
The Tampa Bay Times interviewed some Floridian drag queens who lamented the bill’s passage and likened it to fascism. One such queen, Momma Ashley Rose, said such legislation was responsible for inspiring “Nazis” to harass her at charity events for children and threaten her life. One Orlando queen and army veteran, Axavier Strick AKA Darcel Stevens, testified before the legislature against the bill while it was still in the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. After its passage out of the committee, he prophetically said: “If their rhetoric continues as such, I’ll be deemed a pedophile and that really upsets me more than anything.”
Fascists have historically targeted homosexuals and those outside the gender binary. Beginning in the 1933, Nazis in Germany began to persecute and arrest gay men and numerous men who engaged in sexual relations with another man. This was part of a larger movement by the regime to reverse the alleged degradation of society and reinstall their “traditional” or “moral” values.
In the U.S., nearly a century later, we hear echoes of such persecution. A key element of fascism is the presence of legitimized private militias, with the Nazi-variant referred to as “Brown Shirts.” In the U.S., we have the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, and various other neo-Nazi organizations and right-wing militia groups. Likely, those harassing Momma Ashley Rose were from such a group. These groups are not exclusive to Florida, of course.
Black Lives Matter and the Reactionary Response
These groups are primarily motivated by racism, importantly. The United States’ Constitution contains racist clauses such as Three-Fifths Clause. A civil war was waged to end the chattel slavery of Black people. Legal segregation followed until the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s; Nonetheless, racial discrimination exists across the country, today. Today, police forces across the country are guilty of what amount to the modern-day lynching of Black people.
An entire movement, Black Lives Matter, was launched in an attempt to pressure the government and police forces to put a stop to the violence and remove racist elements of these institution. However, these police forces are not where racism originated, nor was it the U.S. Constitution. These are the result of capital’s need for exploitable – and hyper exploitable – labor. Africans were abducted, enslaved, and transported to the Americas so as to work. It was necessary for the capitalist class to encourage the division of the working-class, especially once the slaves gained freedom.
The reactionary countermovement is modern evidence of the level to which racism toward Black people is ingrained into the U.S. A common rebuttal was, “Well, white lives matter, too.” In a similar vein, reactionary forces arose from the election of the first Black president in the U.S., Barack Obama. Donald Trump, a xenophobic strong man, won the 2016 election pledging to “Make America Great Again” and undo many progressive social changes. His election emboldened white supremacists, demonstrated through the Unite the Right Rally in 2017. Trump attempted to rule as an authoritarian, and the U.S. would look very different if he had seized power on January 6th, 2021.
A very concrete example of reactionary forces striking back at calls for racial equality and progress comes, once again, from Florida. The first item on the Florida State House’s agenda in 2021 was a bill entitled: “Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act” or HB 1. The timing is of the utmost importance, as this was just after a huge wave of protests seeking to reform or abolish police departments and the incarceration system with an emphasis on the racism innate to such institutions, to the founding of the United States.
This law is nothing if not a direct confrontation with those in the U.S. who participated in the Black Lives Matter marches of Summer 2020. Right-wing TV pundits, such as Tucker Carlson, and conspiracy theorists online, most notably Q-Anon, insisted groups like Antifa or the amorphous radical-left were in cahoots with BLM to undermine law and order by engaging in looting and other subversive activities.
One key aspect of the 2021 Florida Law that is particularly troubling is its policy of preemption. The law takes away community control of their budgets with the intent to undermine any calls for police reform. The law specifically undermines communities’ ability to reduce or reallocate money for law enforcement by allowing the state attorney of the corresponding court circuit to bring forward a suit. An “Administrative Commission” then may amend the budget. Its decision is final. This may appear counterintuitive, as the Republican Party has long attempted to portray itself as the party of small government. Additionally, the Florida Constitution guarantees municipal control over budgets, meaning this law likely violates the state’s constitution.
Just as worrisome, the law penalizes municipalities that do not properly take measures to protect the people and property it governs; increases the degree of severity for assaulting a law enforcement officer, damaging property, looting, or “mob intimidation”; designates historical monuments and tombs as protected and states that any damages or removal of such will result in a felony (this is, of course, a response to the tearing down of Confederate monuments across the country); imposes restrictions on protests broadly, including blocking public streets or blocking traffic. Perhaps in an attempt to embolden the aforementioned groups or others on the right, the law protects individuals who injure protestors by providing them a civil defense that, unless they too were partaking in the activities, they are not liable for harm caused to those “rioting.”
People of color stand to lose the most from this infringement on our First Amendment Rights. Fortunately, in September of 2022 a suit against certain parts of the law was allowed to progress in the 11th Circuit. However, this is not the only place the DeSantis Administration has sought to silence Black voices.
Book Bans and Controlling the Narrative
DeSantis has railed against Critical Race Theory as a weapon used to supposedly demean white people. Just like the aforementioned “Don’t Say Gay” Ban, what they call CRT – actually a theory taught in law school regarding the institutional racism ingrained in the U.S. legal system – was banned from kindergarten to twelfth grade. This law, known as “Stop W.O.K.E.” or, officially, as the Individual Freedoms Act, was used to justify the ban against College Board’s new Advanced Placement course on African American studies.
In addition, Florida’s book ban has extended to numerous books that include LGBTQ+ themes, racial protagonists, or otherwise touch on sexuality, gender, or race. Some school librarians were directed to remove books off the shelves or cover them after the initial passage of the law in order to avoid penalties. Banned books include And Tango Makes Three, a story about two homosexual penguins who raise a chick based on a true story at the Central Park Zoo, and the Handmaid’s Tale, which deals with issues of female bodily autonomy and the dress of the handmaids (which has been the used as a symbol to draw a dystopic comparison by women during protests for bodily autonomy).
This is not enough. Chris Rufo, a DeSantis ally, sits upon the Board of Trustees of New College in Florida in order to undermine one of Florida’s few progressive bastions. A Politico report indicates he is behind a media blitz to promote the ideology of DeSantis. He has been called a propagandist by Democrat lawmakers and, in his own words, his goal is to, “[C]reate a mass media line… to borrow from the kind of Chinese Communist phrasing.” An odd comparison for a conservative.
On social media, Rufo bragged about undoing the university’s diversity requirements and ousting a president who did not align with DeSantis’ vision. I do not draw a comparison to Goebbels lightly or dramatically – Rufo stated to a New Yorker reporter a goal of his is to, “politicize the bureaucracy…” and identifies CRT as a perfect policy to rile-up the conservative base through right-wing social media, television, and YouTube. Rhetoric experts have noted Rufo’s propagandism and highlighted the dangers of his increasing influence. DeSantis’s Florida, he told a crowd of supporters, is to be a model for the rest of the country.
Fascist Tendencies and the Working-Class
If such trends continue and individuals like DeSantis or Rufo (or, worse still, Trump) hold federal office or gain greater influence this has the momentum to become a nationwide phenomenon. Marjorie Taylor-Greene has called herself a Christian Nationalist, as does the KKK. She has also gained stardom and represents Colorado in the House of Representatives. Their rise to power and the increasing prominence of fascist tendencies are nothing but the result of capitalism in crisis.
The U.S. right has long scapegoated groups such as undocumented immigrants, primarily Latino, for stealing jobs from those born in the U.S. The reality is these jobs have been exported to countries where labor is cheaper or automated. Black people are continuously demonized as criminal and dangerous. Such fictions contribute to the division of the U.S. working-class.
These examples from Florida are the parts of an initial wave of what increasingly appears to be the dawn of a fascist regime in the U.S. Some groups present the argument that, for Black people living in this country, much of U.S. history have been fascist. Regardless, fascism and reactionary movements must be fought at all costs. The only path toward true liberation is the development of an alternative society to capitalism, a classless society with a communal ownership of the means of production. What this society looks like exactly remains to be seen but, in this moment, we must struggle against the capitalist class and the fascist state, as well as resist any policy that oppresses. Such experiences may offer the opportunity for the further development of working-class resistance to capital.
Nazi persecution of homosexuals: https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/nazi-persecution-of-homosexuals
On gay men in the lead up to and during Nazi Germany: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/gay-men-under-the-nazi-regime
AP Press on Florida’s CRT Ban: https://apnews.com/article/florida-race-and-ethnicity-government-and-politics-education-74d0af6c52c0009ec3fa3ee9955b0a8d
Florida Book Bans: https://pen.org/florida-book-bans-not-a-hoax/
ACLU Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills: https://www.aclu.org/legislative-attacks-on-lgbtq-rights
Expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill: https://time.com/6263694/florida-dont-say-gay-laws-expansion/
Analysis of “Don’t Say Gay” Bill: https://www.nea.org/sites/default/files/2022-06/FL%20Dont%20Say%20Gay%20KYR%20-%20Updated2022.06.pdf
Map of Trans Healthcare Ban: https://abcnews.go.com/US/map-gender-affirming-care-targeted-us/story?id=97443087
ACLU Statement of Florida law criminalizing transition surgery for youth: https://www.aclufl.org/en/press-releases/aclu-florida-statement-passage-anti-trans-healthcare-bill-senate-subcommittee
Law banning transgender student from competing in sports consistent with their gender identity: https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/sports_participation_bans
HB 1/Florida’s Anti Protest Law: https://www.publicrightsproject.org/hb1
ACLU on HB 1: https://www.aclufl.org/en/what-did-hb-1-do
HB 1 Text: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/1/BillText/er/PDF
No ‘lewd acts’ at drag show DeSantis sent agents to: https://www.tampabay.com/news/florida-politics/2023/03/20/desantis-drag-show-lewd-liquor-license-complaint-lgbtq/