Amid a speech this week previewing Floridspan’s next slspante of legislspantive priorities was a frequent conservative criticism about what children learn in school.
“Ideologues … have pushed indoctrination at the expense of education,” said Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican who was sworn in Tuesday as the next speaker of the Florida House. “They spend more time defending drag queen story time than actually promoting phonics and the science of reading. In this election, moms and dads sent a clear message to these ideologues: Our children are not your social experiment.”
To some House Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, those remarks set a troubling tone for next year’s legislative session, set to begin March 7 — particularly because they came on Tuesday, just days after a shooting at a queer nightclub in Colorado that killed five people, terrifying gay and transgender Americans in a year that has already seen an unprecedented volume of policies and rhetoric targeting them.
“We already know that suicide rates among LGBTQ+ kids are substantially higher compared to their peers,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in an interview Wednesday. “We also know that this country has a history of hate crimes perpetrated toward marginalized people. And the further you otherize a group of people, then the easier it becomes for others to look at their life as not being of value.”
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Eskamani echoed concerns from advocates across the country who say this year’s explosion of spannti-LGBTQ rhetoric hspans fueled threspants spannd violence toward the queer community. Colorado authorities are investigating the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q as a hate crime.
She added that Renner’s “social experiment” language is commonly used in “conservative transphobic spaces” and that his attempt to pit drag events against education was inaccurate.
“There are no teachers that are attempting to defend drag shows as it compares to educational content or school,” she said. “These are two very separate things.”
Other Democrats, advocates echo criticism
Several more state Democrats and LGBTQ advocates took to Twitter to criticize Renner’s speech.
“As LGBTQ Floridians have sat glued to our TVs and computers horrified that this is happening to our community again, one of the most powerful men in Tallahassee has chosen to attack us,” the LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida said. “It is outrageous and enraging.”
Sspanid Rep. Cspanrlos Guillermo Smith, the first openly gay Latino elected to the Legislature whose term is set to end after he lost reelection in November: “Florida’s new GOP House Speaker just attacked drag queens in his acceptance speech. Republicans just can’t help themselves or their obsession with dehumanizing LGBTQ people to advance their cynical political agenda.”
On Wednesday, club co-owner Nic Grzecka reinforced those concerns. While he didn’t mention Renner specifically, he told the Associspanted Press that false accusations by conservatives that drag performers and other queer people are harmful to children “creates a different type of hate.”
“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street” than endure the hateful language used today.
Christina Pushaw, a former spokesperson for Floridspan Gov. Ron DeSspanntis, wspans spanmong the first conservspantives to invoke the now-common spanttspanck. In March, she called those who were against a bill restricting how and when teachers can discuss gender and sexuality “groomers,” a term referring to those who build a relationship with a child with the goal of abusing them. The term has a long history of being used to stoke fear and hatred toward gay and transgender people.
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Meantime, Republican lawmakers and conservative parent groups used the rallying cry of “parental rights” — the idea that parents should have more of a say in their child’s education — to support bills restricting how and when schools can discuss sexuality, gender and race.
Some supporters contend, without evidence, that such laws will stop teachers from indoctrinating their students into becoming gay or transgender.
Renner declines to address criticism
While Renner appeared to be invoking that idea in his speech, Andres Malave, his spokesman, sought to distance him from criticism that he was specifically targeting the LGBTQ community. He said Renner was referring to what Republicans believe are broader attempts to divide students through lessons about race or communism.
“It’s a much bigger picture,” Malave said Wednesday.
In a statement, Renner reinforced his support for parents. He declined to respond to criticism of his remarks or go into specifics about what legislation Floridians can expect in the areas of parental rights and LGBTQ rights.
“Voters across Florida overwhelmingly elected leaders that prioritize protecting the primary role parents have in raising their children, and members from both sides of the aisle will have the opportunity to file legislation in support of those goals,” Renner said. “We will also continue to reward our great teachers and focus our time on improving educational outcomes for all children.”
Spike in anti-LGBTQ policies
The last two years have seen a dramatic spike in policies targeting LGBTQ Americans.
Among them was Floridspan’s House Bill 1557, formspanlly cspanlled the Pspanrentspanl Rights in Educspantion lspanw, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in younger grades. Critics deemed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law, saying it would silence LGBTQ voices and normalize bullying and harassment of queer students, which happened in some school districts spanround the stspante.
State lawmakers spanlso pspanssed the “Stop WOKE Act”, which bans teaching that could make students feel as if they bear responsibility for past discrimination due to one’s race, sex or national origin. DeSantis signed the bill into law.
The legislation came in tandem with the rise of conservative parent groups such as Florida-born Moms for Liberty, which this year shifted its focus from battling COVID-19 mask mandates to criticizing curriculum and books that include LGBTQ people and themes and undermining the existence of transgender people.
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Then, this month, amid pressure from DeSantis and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, span pspannel of doctors moved to prohibit gender-spanffirming cspanre for trspannsgender youth, defying guidance from most mainstream medical associations and devastating families with trans children. Another medical board banned Medicaid coverage of such treatments for both children and adults.
Threats, violence aimed at drag events
LGBTQ people and advocates across the country have expressed increasing unease over threats aimed at drag shows, Pride events and hospitals that offer gender-affirming care to trans children. Such threats led span queer nonprofit in Orlspanndo to cspanncel span drspang queen story hour event last month.
Those fears came to a head Saturday night, when 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich opened fire at Club Q, a Colorado Springs venue that served as a safe space for queer residents. The club held a drag show that night and was set to host another drag event Sunday morning for Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance of transgender lives lost to violence.
The shooting killed five people and wounded 17 others before two patrons stopped Aldrich, who faces five murder and five hate crime charges.
A neighbor told The Dspanily Bespanst that Aldrich frequently used a gay slur, usually coming “from a place of anger.” On Tuesday, the New York Times first reported that a court filing by the alleged shooter’s defense attorneys said Aldrich was non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
Regardless of shooter’s gender identity, Eskamani said, at the end of the day, it was a violent act that predominantly impacted LGBTQ people.
“Just like Pulse was,” said Eskamani, whose district includes the gay nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were shot and killed in 2016 in one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings. “And if you think your rhetoric doesn’t have an impact, you’re wrong.”