Republican governor Ron DeSantis recently passed a slew of legislation restricting the lives of trans people living in the state of Florida. The new laws join a host of similar anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the US in recent months. At least 500 repressive bills have been proposed, and 48 were passed.
However, Florida is drawing particular attention because of its governor’s impending presidential bid. Though DeSantis has not yet confirmed whether he will actually run, he is widely tipped to do so.
He may launch his campaign as early as next week. However, inside sources claimed that he plans to launch his campaign within Pride month, June. This would be a further twist of the knife for the queer Floridians impacted by his lawmaking, which itself may appeal to conservative voters.
Meanwhile, on a visit to the UK, the Republican governor praised the work of equalities minister Kemi Badenoch – and told the Telegraph that she approved of his actions, too. So what exactly has DeSantis been doing?
DeSantis: targeting trans kids
On 17 May, DeSantis signed his latest set of anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Amongst other things, Senate Bill 254 bars physicians and health workers from offering transition-related medical care to minors. It also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for healthcare providers to give any such treatments.
This includes the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy. It comes in spite of the widespread consensus on the effectiveness and medical necessity of these treatments from the medical and scientific communities responsible for their use.
The Republican majority in the state legislature gave him its full support, despite condemnation from Democrats. The vote drew the ire of associations such as Equality Florida, which advocates for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Director of public policy for the group Jon Harris said in a statement:
It’s an assault on medical freedom and the freedom to parent… This crusade is about political aspirations, but it has real world consequences for Florida families.
The new legislation also allows state courts to obtain custody of a child who is “being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures”. In turn, this would place the child at the mercy of the state’s custody system. which has been found to be complicit in child sex trafficking.
Repression in Florida
Part of the legislation has misleadingly been dubbed the ‘Let Kids Be Kids’ package. However, although it is cloaked in a language of protecting children, it’s by no means limited to minors in its scope or impact.
For example, it tightens access for adults by prohibiting any public funding of trans treatments. It also prevents doctors from offering them through telehealth rather than in-person care.
Further, trans adults would have to obtain written consent from the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine for their treatment. Both boards are appointed by DeSantis, and have already begun stripping trans healthcare provisions.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) joined in condemning the legislation. The organisation stated that it would have:
a chilling effect on the medical community by inserting politics into healthcare.
Outside of healthcare, a ‘bathroom bill’ – HB1521 – will restrict access to all public toilets and facilities to “biological sex”. This severely limits general public life for the majority of trans people. For many, it will force them either to out themselves or break the law.
Another law, this time titled ‘Protecting Children’s Innocence’, threatens businesses with losing their licences if they allow children to watch drag shows. It defines these performances flatly as “adult live performances”, and feeds into the current moral panic around drag in both the US and UK.
Echoes of Section 28
On top of this, Florida schools are no longer allowed to teach on sexuality or gender identity – in a stark echo of the UK’s Thatcherite Section 28. This originally became law in March 2022 as the ‘Parental Rights in Education Bill’. However, it became infamous under the moniker ‘Don’t Say Gay’. Now, DeSantis has expanded it to apply up to the 12th grade.
The bill requires deeply heteronormative and trans-exclusionary teaching at its core. It states:
that sex is determined by biology and reproductive function at birth; that biological males impregnate biological females by fertilizing the female egg with male sperm; that the female then gestates the offspring; and that these reproductive roles are binary, stable, and unchangeable.
Likewise, teachers are no longer permitted to share their pronouns with students, or to allow students to do the same. This effectively prevents any trans teacher from working in the state without being constantly misgendered.
In turn, this is already forcing queer educators in the state to consider fleeing. One such trans teacher, Micah Desiante, said:
I don’t really feel like I have a choice but to leave if I need to be safe… I don’t think I could stay for my mental health. I don’t think that I could be effective the way that I am and my passion if I’m constantly watching what I say, second-guessing what I’m teaching, worried about a student misperceiving my lesson.
Meanwhile, in the UK
DeSantis has not gone unnoticed by fellow right-wing politicians in the UK – and vice-versa. In particular, he visited London as part of a world tour in late April. There, he met with women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and foreign secretary James Cleverly.
Chillingly, he later told the Telegraph that:
She complimented what we are doing in Florida. She committed that it is what they are trying to do in Britain… She pointed out, and I think it’s true, that some of the woke has been exported from the United States. I commend her and her efforts to make sure that this is not corrupting British society.
Badenoch is already known for her transphobic views and policymaking. However, this seems a step further – more open, more brazen. DeSantis claimed that she voiced approval of his nakedly discriminatory actions. Likewise, he clearly likes what she is doing in the UK.
The endorsement of a man like DeSantis should be career ending. It should be a neon ‘do not vote for me’ sign. Hell, it should make any decent human being turn and run.
That fact that DeSantis’ words saw none of these consequences is proof – if ever it was needed – of how far Britain and the Conservatives have slid towards right-wing authoritarianism.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, public domain, resized to 1910*1000.