Florida is quickly becoming a far less hospitable place to be LGBTQ+. Photo: Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstocl

In recent years, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has become more well known nationally. After serving as a representative for Florida’s 6th congressional district from 2013 to 2018, the conservative Republican won a tight race for governor of Florida against Democrat Andrew Gillum. Since taking office in 2019, DeSantis has been considered by many to be the likely Republican nominee for the 2024 Presidential election. DeSantis has been instrumental in the overturning of LGBTQ+ rights in Florida, which has inspired a ripple effect across the country, even in some traditionally blue areas. Here’s a breakdown of the major anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and moves spearheaded by DeSantis and his administration. 

Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (SB 1028)

DeSantis signed SB 1028 into law June 1, 2021, which effectively banned trans girls and women from competing in competitive sports. According to the law, “an athletic team or sport that is designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex, based on the student’s biological sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate at the time of birth.” 

The law inspired a similar bill in Pennsylvania, which was vetoed by former Gov. Tom Wolf as discriminatory. Wolf said in his veto, “The bill denies opportunities to transgender youth, which would have a devasting impact on a vulnerable population already at greater risk of bullying and depression.” 

Florida Parental Rights in Education Act 

The Florida Parental Rights in Education Act received major media coverage from the time it was introduced in January 2022 by ​​Florida Senator Dennis Baxley. The bill, which earned the nickname, “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibits any classroom discussion or instruction about anything related to LGBTQ+ for students in grades kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” This includes discussing a student’s same-sex parents, having books that include any reference to LGBTQ+ people, or answering any questions a student might have about LGBTQ+ issues. DeSantis signed the bill Mar. 28, 2022, and a firestorm of backlash ensued. Even the White House weighed in on the matter, calling the bill “shameful” and “This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.’ This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.”

Likely emboldened by Florida’s success, the Missouri Senate is proposing its own version of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would include all grade levels. 

New College of Florida Board of Trustee Appointments

Long a bastion for “free thinkers, risk takers and trailblazers,” New College has been offering liberal arts education for students in Florida since 1964. The college is also known for its welcoming stance for LGBTQ+ students, which includes a dedicated Outreach and Inclusive Excellence office. 

In January, DeSantis appointed six conservative trustees to the college’s board, including Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who has railed against Critical Race Theory and vocalized his opposition to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ issues in education. The board removed President Patricia Okke and replaced her in the interim with former Republican Statehouse speaker and education commissioner, Richard Corcoran. Students have protested the decisions, even raising over $100,000 in a GoFundMe to raise money to hire legal representation and create a 501(c)4 to Defend Educational Freedom. 

African-American AP history course

In January, an AP course focused on African American studies intended for the 2024-2025 school year, was shot down by the DeSantis administration. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) called the course, “inexplicably contrary to Florida law” and that the curriculum “significantly lacks educational value.” 

Manny Diaz, Jr, the current education commissioner in Florida tweeted Jan. 20, “Despite the lies from the Biden White House, Florida rejected an advanced placement course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law. We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” Some of the reasons Diaz listed for concern were the inclusion of Black Queer studies, Black feminist literary thought, and the reparations movement. 

Removal of anti-bullying site

In late 2021, after being questioned by the conservative publication Florida Capital Star, an anti-bullying page that included LGBTQ+ content and resources was removed from the FDOE website. The Office of Safe Schools, which was established after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was passed in 2018, now no longer offers resources for LGBTQ+ students. 

Banning of 500+ books in Florida Public Schools

As part of the FDOE’s new policy about what books students can and cannot be exposed to, Florida teachers are facing possible third-degree felony charges for having books that are banned or have not been officially vetted. Teachers across the state have emptied or covered their bookshelves in order to avoid potential prosecution. 

Florida is only behind Texas in the number of books banned. Books like the queer-centric, “This Book is Gay” and “My Two Dads and Me” make the banned in Florida list, but so do books like “Chik Chak Shabbat,” “Uncle Jed’s Barber Shop” and “The Gift of Ramadan.” Are you a teacher or a parent in Florida? Want to share your story? Email us at newsisout@localemedia.org.