WITCH HUNTS have always been as American as apple pie. Ambitious politicians running for office have often found it expedient to create “enemies of the people” to get elected or to increase their power. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida was working from this playbook when he pushed through his “Parental Rights in Education Bill,” otherwise known as “Don’t Say Gay,” which evokes memories of Joseph McCarthy, the Johns Committee, and Anita Bryant from times we thought we had left behind.
The “Parental Rights” law prohibits any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade and prohibits instruction on these topics that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in all grades through high school. What’s “appropriate” is to be decided by the parents in a given school district—even though parents are not trained professionals in child development or classroom instruction. Guidance counselors and certified classroom teachers have always been a lifeline for teenagers questioning their sexuality or gender identity, providing safe spaces where children could explore being themselves. Now teachers will be prosecuted by a “special magistrate” appointed by DeSantis and company for counseling students on these subjects. Those found to be in violation will be fired.
Not satisfied with plying his machinations on students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, DeSantis and his cohorts are now looking for ways to extend their control of speech and morals to the university level. The word is out that professors at public institutions who are openly gay or sympathetic to LGBT rights will be scrutinized accordingly in hiring and tenure consideration.
Now that “Don’t Say Gay” is law in Florida, DeSantis and his cronies are building on their sinister success by banning books. So far they’ve excluded over fifty textbooks that teach math in favor of books from just one company, Accelerated Learning. Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin was the CEO of an investment firm that acquired Accelerated Learning, which is a leading contributor to DeSantis’ campaign.
We have seen repeatedly how the Republican Party uses the politics of fear to silence its opposition. We need to recognize that they are actively conspiring to roll back gay rights. We’re seeing an insurgency of conversion therapies in some states. How long before they come after gay marriage? For anyone concerned with our hard-won rights, “Don’t Say Gay” is a matter of life and death. We must push back for the sake of today’s youth. We must demand safe spaces for young people to explore their authentic identities and protect their right to be who they are.
Cassandra Langer is a frequent contributor to these pages.