Ron DeSantis has built his campaign for the Oval Office on a basic platform of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric under the guise of “protecting the children” and rejecting “woke” ideals. Based on the timing of various pieces of legislation alongside his announcement that he will run for the presidency, DeSantis clearly hopes that leading the charge in the culture war will win him that top job. However, the Florida governor’s latest move might have been a major miscalculation and prove to be the step too far that eventually loses him the election.
After signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March of 2022 with a claim that it would only affect grades K-3, the Florida bill was expanded in April 2023 to include K-12. One of the major criticisms of the bill has always been that not only does it limit the ability to discuss LGBTQ+ identities in schools, it does so in an extremely vague way. This has led to it being unclear what will and won’t run afoul of the bill and left some being surprised to have been pulled up on it while others have self-censored to avoid the risk.
It’s a year and a half since Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed “Don’t Say Gay” into law, and predictable after-effects are here.
All of this has expanded with Florida’s Department of Education demanding the College Board remove the gender and sexual orientation section from the AP Psychology course. With the College Board refusing to remove the section, state officials warned that teaching elements of the AP Psychology course could violate Florida law. The College Board has suggested that this effectively bans the course. Since the initial news broke, Florida has encouraged schools to teach the course without that content. With the situation remaining unclear, eight out of the 11 largest school districts by enrollment in Florida are now switching to alternate courses, two remain undecided, and only one district has committed to still teaching AP Psychology.
This seemingly inevitable expansion of the DeSantis plan to remove any mention of LGBTQ+ people from schools has caused the presidential contender a major problem however. While the LGBTQ+ community and its allies were already opposing the Florida governor over “Don’t Say Gay,” the AP Psychology ban threatens the education of all students in the state. This, unsurprisingly, opens the door for DeSantis’ base to be directly upset with him as their children are suddenly unable to be on even footing for university applications. To get additional perspective on how this affects students and DeSantis’ standing in his campaign, INTO spoke to Zander Moricz, the executive director for Social Equity Through Education Alliance (SEE), a plaintiff in the case against “Don’t Say Gay,” and a recent graduate from a Florida High School.
Ron DeSantis shot himself in the foot by banning AP Psychology because he crossed a line for a lot of people. For a lot of people, it is very hard to understand what about the field is “woke.”
The tide has already been turning against DeSantis in lots of ways, and I think that this was a major misstep that is going to set his campaign back substantially. This [policy] benefits no one, and it isn’t even a powerful addition to his cultural war arsenal, because the amount of the curriculum that was eliminated that actually addressed queerness is so minimal, that he really did almost nothing for his own cause.
In the Republican primaries, DeSantis has been falling behind. While at the start of 2023 he was hot on Donald Trump’s heels, more recent polling has him only a little way ahead of the rest of the pack of potential nominees and well behind Trump. While other matters might make Trump’s lead moot in the long run, it’s not a strong place to be and DeSantis is clearly trying to give himself a boost by returning to some of the strategies that have worked in the past. The attempt from the DeSantis administration to force the College Board to remove the gender identity and sexual orientation aspect of AP Psychology was an attempt to recapture the kudos the governor received from his base after “Don’t Say Gay,” but it’s been disastrously ineffective so far.
Won’t somebody think of the children?
This just looks like DeSantis is fumbling around and trying to find a win. He’s looking back at all the things that he found to have been successful, and he’s just repeating them. But it isn’t working. This time it isn’t impactful, it isn’t new, it isn’t beneficial, so it just seems like he’s panicking and trying to find a new way to make a headline.
While this move might upset DeSantis’ base and risk his position as a serious contender in the Republican primaries, it also does something more important than that. The AP Psychology mishap demonstrates the problem with the larger cultural war that the Republican party has been waging against the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. It has revealed in a potent way that these sorts of policies aren’t just going to affect those marginalized communities, but will have further-reaching consequences that threaten the interests of the main Republican base without providing enough to compensate them for that.
Ron DeSantis is trying to remove all elements of queerness and transness from life, and trying to remove these queer and trans identities from public school entirely. But AP Psychology is proof that you cannot remove queer and trans people from life without also removing part of life. You cannot eliminate queerness without also eliminating part of community and history, and education, and society, and politics.
And what this has done is it has shown the opposite of what our governor’s trying to do. Governor DeSantis is trying to show us that “Oh, AP Psychology has become bad because it incorporates queer and trans perspectives.” But in reality, what people are seeing is that queer and trans perspectives have always been so ingrained and are so fundamental in almost every element of American and global life, that attempting to erase queerness, attempting to not acknowledge the existence of queer and trans people is not a viable choice, it is no longer a strategy that is going to work.
And I think that is why, while this is awful and horrifying, it is also important because it has shown us that Ron DeStantis’ strategy can’t work. You cannot eliminate the presence of queer and trans people from school with also destroying those schools.
I think what is becoming really clear on a national scale is that, while Republicans do care about cultural issues, they care more about the bread-and-butter issues that they have always cared about. And Ron DeSantis is terrible at the bread-and-butter citizen issues that Floridians care about. So Republicans across the country are able to see that if you want a functioning economy, if you want a good quality of life, if you want proper housing, then Governor DeSantis is not going to be able to provide that for you. And that’s a huge problem for him. He’s resting everything on the culture wars. And so when you do have more traditional fiscal conservatives, they’re being turned off by Ron DeSantis left and right. And this is a really problematic thing to do because his ability to ban AP Psychology comes from the work he did in passing the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
While it’s satisfying to see that DeSantis hurting his own campaign with this move, it obviously doesn’t solve all of the problems. DeSantis dropping in the polls still leaves Donald Trump at the front with his cult following and if he were to regain the White House, there is no telling what horrors might be inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.
However, there is still one major positive takeaway here. Ron DeSantis is showing Republicans that if they push too far for too long on the anti-LGBTQ+ policies, eventually there will be wider pushback because they cannot isolate who their policies are affecting. Ultimately, the house is certainly still on fire, but at least it seems there might be a narrow path through the smoke here.♦