In January of this year, Bob and I made our yearly trek to Longboat Key Florida for two weeks in the sun. We have been doing this for over twenty years now. We visit with snowbird friends who decamp to Florida for the winter. It has always been an enjoyable time. But this year the daily TV news stories were quite disturbing. Book banning. Disney fights. And the last straw for me, the destruction of a gay friendly college in nearby Sarasota, called New College.
This year Governor Ron DeSantis set about to destroy New College. It was known as a bastion for LGBTQ+ and minority students. In January, DeSantis fired the president and replaced her with a Republican politician, dismantled the office of diversity and equity, and denied tenure to five professors. He reconstituted the Board of Trustees and installed conservatives including the nefarious Christopher Rufo. (You may not know him, but think Loki, the evil trickster of the Marvel Universe, however more dangerous because the bodies Rufo marches over are very real human beings.)
No longer can LGBTQ+ students feel protected at New College. Now faculty are even prohibited from using a student’s preferred pronoun. During the TV news reports, we viewed gay, lesbian, and trans students as well as other minority students protesting the changes that are destroying a place where they previously felt at home. They voiced their very real concerns, especially in a state that has extended laws against discussing LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms, against trans athletes, and even gender affirming care. Part of the blame lands right on Mr. Rufo.
Christopher Rufo was behind the many anti transgender laws in a record number of states–17–that passed in June of this year. He is the conservative theorist behind promoting the false belief that elementary and secondary schools teach Critical Race Theory. This mistaken belief caused many problems for teachers and school boards across the country. He has asserted, quite openly, that anti-LGBTQ+ publicity would be an even more fruitful way to inflame parents and legislators. Unfortunately he was right. He was behind the infamous “Don’t Say Gay Law” in Florida and the battle against Disney because it exercised its free speech rights to disagree with that law.
On June 28th, The New York Times stated “Statehouses around the country this year have been consumed by fights over laws governing transgender people.” The percentage of transgendered youth is very low. Those that receive gender transition surgery even lower. Yet many of these laws are quite clinical on what is not allowed; for example, no use of hormone suppressing medications until after age 18. That goes against what most medical doctors recommend in care for trans minors. Parents of transgender youth do not have the right to pursue these medical treatments even if they and their doctors believe it is best for the young person. In a country that guarantees freedom of religion, of speech, of the right to bear arms, the right to bodily autonomy is removed, instead leaving private medical decisions up to legislators. The Republican Party, who famously wanted government out of our lives, has led these efforts.
One would think that state legislators would have more important things to do for their citizens rather than targeting a small minority of young people and their families. Don’t roads have to be fixed, health care increased, education improved? But these issues cost money. Is this concerted effort to harm a minority just a way to divert attention, and funds, from more important concerns? Life is hard enough for trans people and those who love them. Murders and suicide rates are high among the transgender community.
It seems to me that the end game for conservative legislators is to undermine public education so that schools will be privatized and thus make schooling even more of a privilege. Rufo and his cohorts have infected the minds of many. My hope is that, during the next election, citizens clearly vote these manipulative and unjust lawmakers out of office.
As a nation we are at a critical point in our history. Time for efforts toward more inclusiveness not less. Though the changes in society may be disturbing to some, returning to an earlier more restrictive and more harmful time is not the answer.