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New focus over battles in racism, politics- Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Opposition to the legislation in Florida comes more from “people who don’t like the DeSantis agenda anyway”

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Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) being confronted by EQ Florida's Brandon J. Wolf [Left] outside PULSE, 2019 ( Photo Credit: Brandon J. Wolf )

WASHINGTON – Legislation in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, criticized as an effort to quash any discussion of LGBTQ families and identities in schools, has become a focal point of contention in the context of ongoing national battles over politics, critical race theory, restrictions on LGBTQ books and anti-transgender sports legislation in state legislatures.

The shock of the potential reach of the measure, which opponents say would make schools vulnerable to lawsuits simply over a teacher responding to a student’s question about a gay family member, followed by comments by Gov. Ron DeSantis signaling support for the bill, has opened up targets in other battles waged by the Democratic Party and progressives seeking attention for other issues and a potential upcoming challenger to President Biden in 2024.

Chief among the fiery battles for which the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has provided kindling is the upcoming presidential election. It’s no secret DeSantis is widely seen as a potential Republican challenger to Biden, who may be vulnerable amid consistently low approval ratings and criticism over his handling of inflation and coronavirus.

After DeSantis made comments last week favorable to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying he thinks it’s “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity, his opponents were quick to take him task and tie him to the legislation. Although the legislation had previously faced criticism from Chasten Buttigieg, who tweeted the legislation “will kill kids,” among the new voices against the legislation were no less than the White House and Biden himself.

“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,” Biden wrote in a tweet last week. “I have your back, and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to obtain Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, echoed his husband’s criticism of the bill during an appearance last week on CNN’s “Newsroom.” 

When host Jim Sciutto asked whether the bill would inflict any potential harm the measure on LGBTQ kids, Buttigieg replied, “absolutely.”

“And the reason is that it tells youth who are different or whose families are different that there’s something wrong with them out of the gate, and I do think that contributes to the shocking levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth,” Buttigieg said.

The legislation hasn’t gone far in Florida. 

As of this week, one House committee and one Senate committee have approved it and neither chamber has scheduled a floor vote. But with Republican in control of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, the measure is well-positioned to become law.

A.G. Gancarski, a reporter with the news website FloridaPolitics.com, told the Washington Blade he could see the “Don’t Say Gay” bill coming up for a floor vote in the near future, pointing out “with these big social-message type bills, it seems like they do one a week in the House and the Senate.”

“It’s going to come up this session because it’s in posture where we’ll hit the floors probably toward the end of session — the last two weeks after committees, where things get kind of kind of crazy and things happen quickly,” Gancarski said. “We’re not there yet. We got plenty of time for this to get through the process, and there are no structural impediments to it. I can’t see what stops this is what I’m saying.”

One saving grace for opponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is DeSantis has stopped short of committing himself to signing it. Gancarski drew a distinction between the support DeSantis has offered the bill compared his support for other bills, such a proposed bans on critical race theory.

“It’s something that Gov. DeSantis has not explicitly endorsed,” Gancarski said. “He hasn’t said, ‘I back these bills.’ Whenever he’s asked about these bills, he speaks conceptually supportive of them. This is true with CFO Jimmy Patronis also. So it’s something that Republicans on the executive level back, but it’s not one of those bills that DeSantis is putting the same emphasis on some other bills with his own name behind it, but he certainly backs it. He’s given every indication he would sign it.”

LGBTQ groups and commentators aligned with the conservative movement, sensing the legislation could become a political liability for DeSantis, were quick to defend the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

Chadwick Moore, editor of Log Cabin Republicans’ media arm Outspoken, told Tucker Carlson last week on Fox News said the measure is “a perfectly reasonable, rational bill” being unfairly maligned by Democrats and “childish wacky gay activists.” Brad Polumbo, a gay conservative commentator, in a column for the Washington Examiner criticizes opposition to the legislation as “wildly overblown and not based in reality,” then undercuts his own argument by saying the “language is admittedly rather broad.”

Key portions of the legislation, numbered House Bill 1557 and Senate Bill 1834, reveal the potential penalty for the slightest hint of talk about LGBTQ kids and families in schools. The legislation is restricted to grade schools, although the bill never defines what constitutes a grade school from other places of education.

Under the legislation schools “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity,” or generally in the education system “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Further, the legislation empowers a parent of a student who feel the law was violated to “bring an action against a school district” in court to seek and obtain damages.

Another portion of the bill would give parents “access to information about their child’s mental and emotional well-being, as well as information about any changes to their mental or emotional health,” which critics could lead to teachers being forced to out LGBTQ kids still going through the coming out process to their families.

Equality Florida was out of the gate on Monday with a new TV ad against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which is the first of two TV against DeSantis’ policies. 

The ad features a young girl in a school classroom about to give a presentation on her heroes, which she subsequently says are her two moms. A red light and buzzer goes off in the classroom, after which a teacher informs the students she should be proud of her two parents. The ad closes within a voice from an overhead, saying “please report to the front office.”

Although the “Don’t Say Gay” bill causing a stir at the national level, Gancarski said opposition to the legislation in Florida comes more from “people who don’t like the DeSantis agenda anyway” and the national outcry may not have the desired effect.

“That’s sort of the rub,” Gancarski said. “The more the White House pushes against DeSantis, the Republicans, the more they take that as validation of their approach. So when President Biden tweeted last week, he set himself up as a foil as the thing moves forward as much as anything vis-and-vis DeSantis-supporter Republicans. And that’s the paradox.”

‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill tied to ban on critical race theory

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, amid an intense political discussion over topics discussed in schools, is not unlike other measures enacted in Florida and elsewhere seeking to curtain ideas the conservative movement has found objectionable, such as critical race theory or gender ideology. In addition to getting behind legislation against critical race theory, which remains pending before the Florida Legislature, DeSantis signed into law a measure prohibits transgender girls from participating in school sports.

As such, progressives see the fervor over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as a means to highlight these related initiatives, encouraging the public to view them as one issue and part of a greater effort to further oppress marginalized groups, being clear to tie them all to DeSantis ahead of his potential challenge to Biden in the 2024 election.

Nadine Smith, executive director the LGBTQ group Equality Florida, said Monday in a conference call with reporters the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is part of a “roster of bills that chip away at freedom of expression, allow for surveillance in the classrooms, video monitoring, microphones on teachers to eavesdrop on their conversations with students.”

“They hide behind the guise of parental rights, but really when you read what these laws do they allow anybody in the community, regardless of whether or not they have a child, to challenge any resource and have it removed,” Smith said.

A second ad from Equality Florida unveiled on Wednesday called “The Content of Our Curriculum” against the Stop WOKE Act in Florida, which is the vehicle DeSantis to ban the teaching of critical race theory in school. The legislation, House Bill 7 / Senate Bill 148, among other things, would prohibit teaching members of one race are “morally superior” to members of another race, individuals are inherently racist because of their race or an individual’s “moral character or status” is privileged or oppressed because of race.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is also playing into the hands of critics who are decrying efforts to restrict pro-LGBTQ literature in schools and libraries across the country, many of them conservative states like Texas. According to a recent report in NBC News, hundreds of LGBTQ-themed titles have been pulled from libraries across the state for review, sometimes over the objections of school librarians. Many of these books are said to have sexually explicit content.

George Johnson, who says their book on the Black queer youth experience “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is banned in 15 states, was on the conference call with reporters and said efforts like bans on books are the result of demographic shifts in the United States and the “conditioning of students’ minds.”

“The ultimate goal of book banning is to not just silence us,” Johnson said. “It’s not that they’re trying to say we don’t exist, it’s that the don’t want to condition Generation Z with the proper information about our existence, as well as information about the existence and history of this country. Because then, when Gen Z becomes the next CEOs, the next mayors and the next governors, they may actually think about people who are marginalized because they read about them growing up, because they knew them growing up.”

With state legislatures across the country advancing at a rapid pace bills that would prohibit transgender girls from participating in school sports, LGBTQ rights advocates are also drawing connections between the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the anti-trans sports measures.

Mary Emily O’Hara, rapid response manager for the LGBTQ group GLAAD, said in the conference call in the national context, more than 170 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced throughout the country, many of which are focused on schools.

“There is no separating book bans from anti-trans sports bans in schools,” O’Hara said. “They both impact students. They’re both about lowering representation on the visibility and equality for LGBTQ students. There is no separating LGBTQ school policy bills from critical race theory bans.”

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Log Cabin GOP compares FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago to Stonewall

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records

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former President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan stand in the main entrance to Trump's exclusive private club & Florida residence Mar-A-Lago on April 17, 2018 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

WASHINGTON – As the outraged fallout continued in Republican Party circles Tuesday, after special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant Monday at the South Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, the LGBTQ political group Log Cabin Republicans, (LCR) joined the growing chorus on the right angered by the search.

“Just as the patrons of Stonewall were not intimidated by police, we will not be intimidated by the weaponization of the FBI and DoJ against President Trump or his home, Mar-A-Lago… …where (as we announced hours ago) we will be holding our annual gala later this year!” the group tweeted Monday after news of the search broke.

Reaction to the LCR tweet was swift ranging to from disgust as expressed by LGBTQ writer and radio host Rob Watson to outright anger as noted by former Advocate editor and LGBTQ journalist Matthew Breen.

The FBI’s action was described as unprecedented by legal experts and analysts, however the execution of the search warrant underscores the fact that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will order investigations into criminal wrong doing to include the former president.

Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have dismissed the FBI search as politically motivated.

While a copy of the search warrant was delivered to Trump’s attorneys, little is known about the predicate probable cause found significant enough that a federal judge authorised the search. The affidavit which is the foundational document showing that a crime had been committed and that evidence would likely be found during the search provided to the judge to make that determination has not been made public.

A Justice Department source told the Blade that last January Trump had been found in possession of 15 boxes of materials at his Florida home, which he relinquished to staff from the National Archives amid concerns he may have violated the Presidential Records Act, (44 U.S.C. Chapter 22).

A certain portion of the paperwork that Trump had in his possession was classified which the Justice Department official noted is by itself criminal in nature.

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records. The National Archives said some of the documents Trump turned over to them had been ripped up and taped back together CBS News noted.

It remains to be seen whether the search will lead to criminal charges against the former president or anyone in his immediate orbit, but former prosecutors noted there are serious penalties for violating public records laws the Hill reported Tuesday.

“Highly classified information is treated that way because of its extreme sensitivity. There is a whole range of material that is really a crown jewel, national security, high-consequence sequence. And if that’s what a person carried away rather than leaving it in the hands of the government and complying with the Presidential Records Act, that’s a gravely serious matter,” said John Barrett, a former federal prosecutor who worked for the independent counsel investigating the Iran-contra scandal and served in the DOJ inspector general’s office.

The former president had issued a lengthy statement Monday evening in which he called the raid an “attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”

The House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy promised retribution in a tweet should his party retake control of Congress in the Fall midterm elections:

The Justice Department and the FBI both declined to comment.

Former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Home Being Searched Causes Immediate Political Fallout:

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The fascist circus comes to CPAC Texas

Republican politicians joined Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for speeches laced with antisemitism and overt Christian nationalism

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Steven Monacelli | DALLAS – Hundreds of die-hard right-wing activists descended on the Hilton Anatole in Dallas for the Conservative Political Action Conference this week. It’s the third CPAC event this year alone, following prior events in Orlando, Florida and Budapest, Hungary. It’s also the third CPAC event in a row which featured explicitly Christian nationalist and fascistic speakers.

Before the speeches kicked off on Thursday, Christian musician Natasha Owens—who wore an American flag dress branded with the logo of a Christian mobile phone company—gave a brief concert. 

“You know, President Trump coined the term ‘America First,’” she said. When she attempted to launch into the eponymously named song, the wrong music began playing instead. Incidentally, the term America First was initially popularized by pro-Nazi groups in the United States and was also used by the Ku Klux Klan. 

Though only two of the speakers on Thursday were Texas politicians, the introductory session—”Texas: The Start of the Big Red Wave”—placed the state at the center of the American conservative movement.

“There are two big red engines to our politics and economy,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of CPAC. “As many of you know we had CPAC Florida, and it’s right to be here in Texas.”

“IF YOU WANT TO PITCH IN AND HELP OUT, YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN BORDER BUS.”—GREG ABBOTT

Governor Greg Abbott was the first guest brought to the stage, where he spoke in front of a more than half-empty room about the border, Elon Musk, California liberals, critical race theory, the ongoing program to bus undocumented immigrants to Washington, D.C., and why he thinks Republicans will win big with Hispanics and Latinos in Texas. 

“If you want to pitch in and help out, you can buy your own border bus,” Abbott said to the crowd. “You can help fund sending all these folks to Washington, D.C. and make them deal with the problem.”

Out of all of Abbott’s statements, this one seemed to garner the most excitement from the crowd.

A major theme among speakers at the conference—aside from the officially stated one, “Fire Pelosi: Save America”—was Christian identity and nationalism. In addition to leading the crowd in prayer, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took a page right out of the John Birch Society playbook by proclaiming that the Constitution was literally written by God.

 

“We’re a nation founded upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Constitution,” Patrick said to the crowd. “We were a Christian state and lost that for many years.”

So much for James Madison. But if Patrick is correct, one has to grapple with the difficult questions of whether God also wrote the Articles of Confederation or perhaps signed off on the deeply racist Three-Fifths Compromise, as well as how this all squares with the notion that God doesn’t make mistakes.

“WE’RE A NATION FOUNDED UPON NOT THE WORDS OF OUR FOUNDERS, BUT THE WORDS OF GOD BECAUSE HE WROTE THE CONSTITUTION.”—DAN PATRICK

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán—who recently gave a speech criticizing “race mixing” which caused a long-time advisor to resign and describe it as a “pure Nazi diatribe”—spoke severely about the ostensible Judeo-Christian roots of his nation and urged Christian nationalists across the world to unite together in a struggle against the so-called “woke globalists.” 

Orbán’s language dovetailed with the John Birch Society-tinged talking points around “globalists” and Christian government that have become so common in contemporary politics, and the crowd was so excited by what he had to say that Orbán had to pause for uproarious applause on several occasions. One young man from Oklahoma told me that Orbán was the only speaker he was excited to see, and an elderly couple said they particularly enjoyed Orbán’s speech.

“Globalists go to hell, I have come to Texas,” Orbán bellowed as he concluded his speech.

But not everyone was thrilled with the Hungarian’s presence in Dallas. In the atrium of the hotel, two groups of protesters expressed their displeasure. One group covertly hung a banner and dropped flyers condemning the conference before dashing away. Another group, which included a legendary civil rights activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Peter Johnson, held banners specifically condemning Orbán’s presence before being escorted out by Dallas Police.

“Dr. King told me that as long as I’m alive, I ought to stand up against bigotry, antisemitism, and racism,” Johnson told the Texas Observer. “So I’m standing up.”

Johnson was joined by Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk, a socialite from Dallas, who also spoke out against Orbán. “It’s very important for people to know that Orbán stands for Holocaust denial, antisemitism, racial purity, and is against interracial marriage,” Thompson-Frenk said. “I don’t think a lot of Republican people actually agree with that, but they need to speak out and let their leaders know they don’t endorse that.”

Former Republican Congressman Alan Steelman issued a statement in response to Orbán’s presence as well. “Is this what the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush has come to?” Steelman wrote. “Orbán’s record and spoken word during his 12 years in office are clearly those of a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and anti-immigrant leader.”

A sense of subtle antisemitism pervaded a number of comments made by speakers, Orbán included. Orbán claimed that all the worst things in history were orchestrated by people who hate Christianity and juxtaposed these comments by describing George Soros—a Hungarian-Jewish investor and philanthropist who is a common boogeyman among the far right—as his “opponent.”

“Papa John” Schnatter told the crowd there are “five evil entities” that own the processed food and pharmaceuticals industries (suggesting the former make you sick so you take the latter) as well as media and academia. But he was not talking about the recently released conspiracy-theory themed Mike Myers show, The Pentaverate. He claimed this all somehow ties back to the Frankfurt School, a group of primarily Jewish left-wing intellectuals and academics founded during the Weimar Republic in the lead-up to Nazi Germany that has become the villain of the far-right “Cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory, which itself is a rehashing of the Nazi propaganda term “Cultural Bolshevism.”

RAMBO-TRUMP CUTOUTS, BEDAZZLED PURSES IN THE SHAPE OF .45 PISTOLS, AND EVEN A MOCK JAIL CELL COULD BE SEEN ON THE EXHIBITION FLOOR.

Friday and Saturday will feature other guests and speakers that have their own histories of antisemitism, including Jack Posobiec, a fascistic media figure who the Southern Poverty Law Center reports has “collaborated with white nationalists, antigovernment extremists, members of the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis in his capacity as an operative.”

The speakers are only one part of the CPAC experience. Rambo-Trump cutouts, bedazzled purses in the shape of .45 pistols, and even a mock jail cell could be seen on the exhibition floor. Nearby, our federally indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton—who recently teamed up with other Republican attorneys general to sue the federal government for the right to take lunch money from LGBTQ+ kids—mingled with an AM radio host. Toward the end of the day, Posobiec spoke in front of the Patriot Mobile booth with Leigh Wambsganss, a woman who has played a major role in the PACs that have helped elect far right school board candidates across Texas.

This is all to say that the mask of this movement has slipped, if not fallen off completely. It has revealed its illiberal, anti-democratic, deeply prejudicial tendencies, even if it comes across as completely absurd. The entire scene, a veritable circus of far-right fascistic kitsch, brings to mind what legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Las Vegas: “The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich.” 

An exaggeration, certainly, but an apt one. But don’t just take it from me. Norm Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, described the event as the “Neo-Nazi movement in America.”

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Steven Monacelli is an investigative journalist in Dallas. His reporting has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, The Real News, Dallas Observer, Dallas Weekly, and more. He is also the publisher of Protean Magazine, a nonprofit literary publication. Follow him on Twitter @stevanzetti.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Observer a nonprofit investigative news outlet and is republished by permission.

The Texas Observer believes that journalism is crucial to holding the powerful accountable and essential in the development of a world that protects the lives, and rights, of all human beings. It’s with this spirit that they hope to partner, collaborate and share resources with news outlets also working in the public’s interest.

Sign up for the Texas Observer’s weekly newsletter, or follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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Near total ban in Indiana signed into law by governor to take effect Sept. 15

“The government should not be making health decisions for women,” said Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis

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Indiana Republican Governor Eric Holcomb (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

INDIANAPOLIS – After a bitter and contentious day long session by both Houses of the state legislature, Senate Bill 1 which effectively outlaws abortion in the state except for several narrow exceptions, was sent to Republican Governor Eric Holcomb within an hour of the final vote and passage.

“Following the overturning of Roe, I stated clearly that I would be willing to support legislation that made progress in protecting life,” Holcomb said in a statement released after signing the measure.

The near-total ban on abortion will take effect Sept. 15.

“The government should not be making health decisions for women,” said Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis. “The decision to have an abortion is extremely personal, one that should be left up to a woman and her doctor.”

Late Friday, the Indiana Senate voted 28-19 to accept Senate Bill 1 as passed by the House earlier in the day – making the legislature the first in the nation pass such restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door by overturning Roe v. Wade the Indianapolis Star reported.

The White House issued a statement by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre late Friday on the Indiana abortion ban:

The Indiana legislature took a devastating step as a result of the Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate women’s constitutionally-protected right to abortion. And, it’s another radical step by Republican legislators to take away women’s reproductive rights and freedom, and put personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians rather than women and their doctors.
 
Yesterday’s vote, which institutes a near-total abortion ban in Indiana, should be a signal to Americans across the country to make their voices heard.  Congress should also act immediately to pass a law restoring the protections of Roe – the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose nationally. 
 
Until then, President Biden is committed to taking action to protect women’s reproductive rights and freedom, and access to care they are afforded under Federal law.

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