As I write this, COVID-19 has killed over 900,000 people in the United States.
It’s a hell of a number. 900,000 deaths in just a couple of years, and that’s likely an undercount. The COVID-19 pandemic is the deadliest mass casualty event in U.S. history. Greater than the Civil War, which saw an estimated 750,000 people killed in four years. We have literally outdone ourselves. A very sick and shameful achievement.
But don’t worry, the Republican Party is hard at work telling people that vaccines are bad and that this is a hoax and that we all just need to “go back to normal.” The “pro-life” party my ass.
While each day we grow closer to one million dead from a virus that we have a safe, effective and free vaccine for, Republicans in Florida are focusing on what’s really important: terrorizing LGBTQ+ students in the public school system.
Just as right-wing freakouts about wearing masks, vaccinations and teaching white children that racism is both real and bad are happening under the pretense of “parental rights,” so too is Florida House Bill 1557. Dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill (and if that moniker sounds familiar it’s because this bill isn’t the first of its kind), the legislation “would ban primary school discussion of LGBTQ people or topics, could require school officials to notify a parent if a student comes out as LGBTQ, bans schools from withholding that information from parents in many cases, and allows parents to sue if schools violate those policies,” according to The New Civil Rights Movement.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is apparently all for it. “DeSantis defended the legislation as necessary to stop an apparent trend in schools of helping students figure out issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” reports Florida Politics.
DeSantis is convinced that Florida needs such a law because he knows a guy who knows a guy whose mom’s hairdresser’s twin sister’s niece’s dog sitter’s brother totally had a school official encourage and accept the use of they/them pronouns without immediately notifying the parents that their kid was some kind of sick weirdo.
“In terms of the schools, we’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘Oh, you know, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet. Do all this other stuff,’” DeSantis said in the Florida Politics article. “They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate.”
Wow, such compelling proof, rich with details and specific evidence. I can’t believe that there have been “instances” of “students” being told by “different folks in school” to “do all this other stuff.” Florida definitely needs a law against it.
Support of such a harmful and unnecessary bill should surprise no one given DeSantis’s awful anti-LGBTQ+ track record, which includes his signing legislation over the summer to ban transgender athletes.
Chasten Buttigieg has been very outspoken against the law. “This will kill kids,” he tweeted to Gov. DeSantis on Jan. 20. “You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in. In a national survey (@TrevorProject), 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year. Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”
It’s unconscionable. And, as Buttigieg points out in an interview with MSNBC, the harm has already begun.
“Whether this bill passes or not, it’s important to point out that trauma has already started,” Buttigieg says. “[LGBTQ youth] see us talking about it. They see their identity up for debate right now.”
As just about any LGBTQ+ person can tell you, that kind of trauma is real and lasting. It doesn’t simply go away.
“DeSantis is taking a page from Anita Bryant’s playbook, using anti-LGBTQ legislation as a springboard to serve his national political ambitions,” Nadine Smith, Equality Florida executive director, said in a Feb. 7 statement. “He is willing to inflict harm on the most vulnerable in our state in order to shore up his extremist base.”
This isn’t about political disagreement. This is fundamentally about an extremist state government deciding whose lives matter and whose do not. And I want to make it very clear: Your life matters.
If the weight of all of this anti-LGBTQ+ shit is getting you down, please talk to someone. The Trevor Project can connect you with a crisis counselor any time, day or night. Asking for help takes strength and bravery. Being Ron DeSantis and using your position of power to hurt LGBTQ+ kids and families? Not so much.
D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.