TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — “Don’t say gay.” Regulation of books and classroom discussion. Teachers, parents and school librarians all navigating new and uncertain ground. LGBTQ+ rights under attack. A very public spat between state government and Disney. And at the center of it all is a governor who has emerged as a rival of former President Donald Trump and likely has his eyes set on the White House.

This is Florida at this moment in history, in mid-2023.

For many of those who live in Florida, recent months have brought some changes — many linked to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Here, longtime Florida-based Associated Press journalist Brendan Farrington, who has covered the state’s politics since 1997, reflects on the changes for different groups and puts them into the context of the cultural and political landscape.

___

HOW LIFE IS CHANGING FOR …

YOUR AVERAGE FLORIDIAN:

For your average Floridian, cost of living concerns have become an issue and really are not being addressed as vocally as most folks would have hoped.

Rents are going sky-high. Property insurance, whether you live near the coast or not, is becoming less available and less affordable.

Inflation obviously has played a role, but a lot of the discussion has been steered away from those issues affecting everyday Floridians into more of an “us against them” on cultural issues or abortion and discussions of race.

Guns are another thing. Under a new law, anyone who can legally own a gun can also carry it concealed without a permit. Now you need a permit in order to carry a gun and go through training and a background check to carry a concealed weapon. That will no longer have to happen beginning July 1.

There also seems to be an uptick in hate-related incidents. Somebody projected anti-Semitic messages on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ stadium last season and there have been self-proclaimed Nazis waving flags and signs at events.

And, again, abortion. In April 2022, Florida passed a law setting a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, two months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and passed a stricter one enforcing that ban after six weeks this year. It’s clear reproductive rights are taking a hit in Florida.

TEACHERS:

With the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — opponents call it this because it bans discussion on sexuality in schools with students — the argument for the people who support the legislation say it doesn’t mention the word gay, that it’s simply to protect children from material that parents should have more of a say in.

But because of vague language, some people are wondering whether they can mention LGBTQ+ issues at all. A student may ask, “Why does so and so have two mommies?” Some teachers feel they can’t even address the question without ramifications.

The bill also has left some teachers feeling they can’t even represent who they are in the classroom. If they’re gay, transgender or bisexual, they’ve been left to conclude they can’t have or say anything indicating that. This includes hiding items such as photographs of partners and gay pride emblems.

Some people say it’s better not to say anything than to risk violating the mandates coming down from the state Department of Education.

PARENTS:

It empowers parents who agree with DeSantis’ philosophy and ideology on education. But parents who welcome this discussion feel like, “What about us? What happened to our right to have our children taught about these things?” Parents with LGBTQ+ children feel they’re being denied access to health care, and subsequently their children will be put at risk for depression or suicide.

It’s almost symbolic of a lot of what DeSantis has put forward. It divides people of different ideologies and empowers people who agree with him to speak out more. It empowers parents who — for religious or moral or whatever reasons — do not want their kids to be told about sexuality, particularly gender transition or about other gay students.

And those parents who welcome these policies with open arms are becoming more engaged in school boards. DeSantis, more so than any other governor, has promoted school board races, encouraged people to run, helped candidates who share his ideology, and encouraged parents to complain to school boards. It’s put a lot more tension on the schools. And it’s dividing people among ideologies. A Sarasota school board member recently walked out of a meeting after the Republican chairwoman allowed a parent to personally attack him for being gay.

SCHOOL LIBRARIANS:

School books must be approved by school librarians. And that’s raised questions about schools that don’t currently have a “media specialist” — someone trained to work with staff on approving library and classroom material. It allows investigations of books to happen more easily, which forces people to justify why the books should be in schools over the complaints of people who want them banned.

There are still a lot of questions about the vague language used, such as whether a book can include an LGBTQ+ character even if there is no sexual content. It’s causing schools to be a bit more cautious, perhaps even more than needed, in an effort to conform to the governor’s wishes.

LGBTQ+ RESIDENTS:

It’s caused some steps back in LGBTQ+ rights. I think people feel more endangered — that they can be the subject of hate attacks — and by having the government get involved in these issues, people who are homophobic may feel like they can act out more often.

I’ve talked to a lot of LGBTQ+ lawmakers and activists who feel they are not being treated like whole people, and that the government is trying to suppress who they really are. In some cases, it reminds people of the anti-gay movement in the 1970s. But now, instead of fighting for rights, they are defending rights.

THE THOUSANDS OF DISNEY EMPLOYEES IN CENTRAL FLORIDA:

Related Posts