The Florida House on Thursday passed two bills that solidify the state’s Republican-led lurch toward repressive bans on discussions about racial, gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination.
It’s worth taking a look at both of the bills side by side, to get a full picture of Florida Republicans’ increasingly anti-democratic stance against socially conscious teachings.
The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill — officially, and deceptively, titled the Parental Rights in Education bill — would ban any instruction about sexual orientation or gender from kindergarten to third grade, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The bill came to fruition amid conservatives’ nationwide attacks on school lesson plans discussing social inequality. The Republican Party has leaned into these attacks as a wedge issue primarily to rile up white parents, and many conservatives see this rhetoric as their key to winning elections this year and in 2024.
The other restrictive bill the state House passed Thursday similarly caters to conservative white parents. The Stop WOKE Act — with its intentional-yet-embarrassingly-outdated appropriation of Black slang — bars public schools and businesses from making people feel “guilt” or “discomfort” about their race during lessons and trainings about discrimination. The bill, which I’ve unaffectionately labeled the “Sad White People Bill,” was backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s pitched it as an attack on critical race theory, the college-level field of study focused on how racism rears itself in America. (Critical race theory isn’t being taught in Florida’s K-12 public schools.)
Florida Republicans have shown a keen interest in passing laws that require classrooms to be filmed and teachers to wear microphones in what can only be described as a full-on embrace of the surveillance state.
Nonetheless, DeSantis, donning a remarkably ill-fitting suit, delivered a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday touting his repressive attacks on school lesson plans. He referred to Florida as a “citadel of freedom” and declared countries like Australia and Canada — frequent conservative targets for their Covid-19 safety measures — are becoming “authoritarian.”
Notably, in his critique of so-called authoritarianism, DeSantis made no reference to Russia, the authoritarian-led nation leading the biggest European invasion since World War II.
I’ve explained why conservatives like him reject American democracy, and why they don’t see any issue with Putin-esque repression of ideas they don’t like. Florida’s passage of the two measures restricting speech is an extension of that ethos, a continuation of the GOP’s anti-diversity crusade.