Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is building his campaign in curious ways. He loves parental rights and parental consent when it comes to controlling LGBTQ+ people (and especially youth) but not when it comes to, say, wearing masks to protect against COVID-19. From the outside looking in, it seems safe to say he’s well aware of how popular and effective anti-LGBTQ+ platforms are within his party; we’ve seen enough copycat hate bills popping up around the country to recognize a pattern.
The DeSantis administration is perhaps more than anything excited to diminish the presence of LGBTQ+ people in schools and public places in general, whether it’s trans girls playing sports, trans folks accessing safe and age-appropriate health care at all, or youth attending family-friendly drag shows with their parents. And that doesn’t even address his efforts to derail Advanced Placement courses and the SAT/ACT college admission exams in order to *squints* take a jab at the College Board.
If there’s a party that should know intimately well what constitutes a hoax—say, furries getting littterboxes in classrooms, for example—it’s Republicans. And yet DeSantis seems intent on misusing the word. Let’s look at his recent spiel about book bans and media “hoaxes,” and narrow in on his language. It’s, as always, revealing!
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On Thursday, Feb. 23, DeSantis spoke to the media in Jacksonville, Florida, and suggested the media is creating a “narrative” that includes a “book ban hoax,” as covered in-depth over at Florida Politics.
“They tried to create in Florida a narrative,” DeSantis says during the 33-second video quickly gaining traction on Twitter. “Basically, a book ban hoax. It’s a hoax, what they’re doing. And they’re trying to say because we have parental rights and because we have curriculum transparency if you have a book that has hardcore pornography in a library that 10-year-olds can access, and a parent objects to that, that does not satisfy Florida standards. It should not be in the library with those young kids. I think 99% of parents agree with that.”
Here’s that video clip.
Did you catch the conservative buzzwords of hate? Let’s break them down.
First, let’s stick to the surface-level issues with his statement. Of course, no one wants 10-year-olds to have access to “hardcore pornography.” That is not on the table. But that scenario is a framing from the Republican handbook: Anything by and about LGBTQ+ people is inherently inappropriate, obscene, or sexual.
DeSantis is, after all, a major proponent of the infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill he signed into law, effectively silencing discussions of LGBTQ+ books, issues, and people from Florida public schools. (This law technically applies to kindergarten through the third grade, but in tandem with other anti-queer efforts, it’s become a domino effect in practice.)
Republicans are apparently hellbent on stripping privacy and dignity from queer folks, and that very much includes queer minors—and frankly, all students! All young people can benefit from learning about LGBTQ+ history and events, for example, because it is literally part of history. Queer history is as much a part of history as anything else. And learning about people who are different from ourselves, gaining clarity and tolerance, and arguably becoming better and more well-rounded people.
Diversity: It’s good for all of us!
But conservatives love relying on the anti-queer rhetoric of the past. Trans women get the bulk of this hate today—the hysteria about trans women not being allowed to use women’s bathrooms because they’re innately predatory or “men pretending to be women” is absolutely derived from the same place of intolerance as the argument that youth of any age are too young to learn about LGBTQ+ people, be it from decorating Pride Flags to reading books that feature same-sex parents. It’s not pornographic just because it’s not cisgender and heterosexual, folks!
In addition to book ban efforts already going into effect in public schools across the state, there’s actually a new piece of legislation in the mix that ties into this discussion in intriguing ways. House Bill 911, introduced by Republican state Rep. Alex Andrade, seeks to make it easier to sue the media for defamation, as reported by local outlet WEAR. It also seeks to presume that all anonymous sources are false, which is … whew. It would also limit who qualifies, by definition, as a public figure.
According to Florida Politics, DeSantis hasn’t reviewed the legislation yet himself, but he took a question about it as an opportunity to talk about “hoaxes.”
“You have a situation where you’ve got a lot of drive-by media,” DeSantis reportedly said in reference to the results of past libel and defamation laws. “So they will basically smear somebody, put it out there, and then you will debunk it like the next day or whatever.”
“But it’s kind of already gotten out there and there’s no recourse effectively if you lie about somebody,” DeSantis continued.
Of course, there are protections against defamation, slander, libel, and so on. Of course, the press has an obligation to be transparent and truthful, and accurate. And too, public figures have different protections from us regular folks. It can all be true… And DeSantis can be using all of it in broad strokes to suggest the media is crafting a narrative of lies.
On Thursday, DeSantis suggested, per Florida Politics, that people who tend to be “targeted” in this way are “right-of-center” people who don’t have “adequate recourse.”
Sure, DeSantis. This specific legislation is (obviously) extremely unlikely to actually go anywhere, but it’s still terrifying for the sake of our democracy and free press. But isn’t it so interesting how smoothly DeSantis swept all of these issues up together to make it almost believable that book bans aren’t happening, and the media is just making stuff up to make him look bad?
“It’s one thing for a stooge who’s a partisan apparatchik that may be in, like, a teacher union to try to do this,” DeSantis reportedly said on Thursday. “But to have corporate media not immediately shoot that down, because all you have to do is look up our standards, very easy to do. And so it’s really just a reckless disregard for what the truth actually is.”
DeSantis went on to complain about fact-checking getting “worse,” before adding that he believes it’s “created a situation where the vast majority of the people know that this is an agenda that’s trying to be imposed on them.” He said people recognize “narratives” and “don’t typically believe” them anymore.
“I think that a lot of those outlets only have themselves to blame,” he added.
You know who only has themselves to blame? Republicans who want to ban books (among other things, like equal rights). It’s as simple as that.