Florida’s disturbing descent into LGBTQ+ hate: ‘We’re moments away from raids of gay clubs’

Ron DeSantis in front of a US flag

One year on from Florida passing its widely-condemned ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ people show no sign of easing off.

Florida has emerged as one of the battlegrounds for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, with Ron DeSantis and local Republicans going after trans children, their families, LGBTQ-inclusive education and now, drag queens.

“I think we are moments away from raids of gay clubs, shutting down of gay clubs, and even arrests of gay clubs patrons,” Scott Galvin, executive director at Safe Schools South Florida, tells PinkNews.

“The state of Florida right now is going after the liquor licence of every facility that hosts a drag event. Maybe they’ll be successful, maybe they won’t be, but the venue is going to be tied up in court for a couple of years and who knows where that court case goes.

“It’s going to get a whole lot worse in Florida before it gets better.”

As well as targeting drag queens, the state continues to persecute LGBTQ+ young people and those who wish to support them.

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Ron DeSantis is attempting to expand his notorious Don’t Say Gay law (banning LGBTQ+ topics from classrooms), while a new bill would prohibit discussions of menstruation, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and health education before the sixth grade.

Ron DeSantis gives a victory speech after defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist.
Ron DeSantis gives a victory speech after defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist. (Octavio Jones/Getty)

These and other attacks – like Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for young trans people – are described by Republicans as attempts to protect children.

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But for Galvin, it’s hard to believe the legislature genuinely cares about child welfare. 

“It’s all political,” Galvin says. “They’re appealing to the super conservative voters in the state of Florida. They’re doing what they know will get them votes.

“It’s working. It will continue to work. Are they as uncomfortable talking about these things as they say? Probably not.”

Galvin has seen up close how Don’t Say Gay has created a culture of fear in Florida schools. 

“The schools, the teachers are petrified. I’ve seen them cancel field trips, cancel events that are relatively innocuous because they’re afraid of what could happen to their job if they push for a field trip to the theatre – ‘Oh a field trip to the theatre, ah, but there’s LGBT+ people performing on that stage!’

“Even if the law doesn’t specifically prohibit such things, they’re still being avoided by schools and teachers because they’re afraid of retribution.”

LGBTQ rights supporters protest against Florida Governor Ron Desantis outside a "Don't Tread on Florida" tour campaign event.
LGBTQ rights supporters protest against Florida Governor Ron Desantis outside a ‘Don’t Tread on Florida’ tour campaign event. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty)

Donald Trump ‘altered the fabric of the United States’

Conservative lawmakers have long disliked LGBTQ+ people, but they’ve been emboldened to target them through legislation as a result of Trump’s presidency, during which the floodgates opened to anti-LGBTQ+ hate.

“Donald Trump absolutely altered the fabric of the United States of America,” Galvin says.

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“I don’t say that because I’m some anti-Republican person – I’m not – it’s that one person and his approach that made people feel comfortable. They can now do these things. 

“The things Trump said and did would have absolutely done in any other candidate or office-holder and it didn’t do him in – he got more popular – so now everyone else below him, whether it’s gubernatorial candidates or state legislators… they feel now they can act like this and get away with it.”

Things will likely only get worse if Florida governor Ron DeSantis becomes the next president of the United States, as many believe he will. 

“What would happen with Ron DeSantis as president is that the federal government would now start supporting those local laws and implementing them on a national scale,” Galvin says.

Donald Trump and wife Ivanka walk side by side holding hands while at their New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago
Donald Trump, who has espoused anti-LGBTQ+ policies and sentiment, said he’s had ‘fantastic’ poll numbers regarding his 2024 presidential bid. (Getty)

Brandon Wolf, press secretary at Equality Florida, says the spate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being advanced in Florida and across the US is tied both to politicians’ egos and behind-the-scenes campaigning from religious groups.

“Those two groups have joined forces to foment fake moral panic and right-wing hysteria that can be used to amass more wealth, power and fame,” Wolf says.

DeSantis has been instrumental in stirring up anti-LGBTQ+ hate, he says.

“His agenda of slandering the LGBTQ+ community and falsely painting us as an existential threat to society has fomented the kind of bigotry now exploding across the country.”

Things are bad right now, but Wolf harbours some hope for the future. He believes conservative politicians are pushing back against LGBTQ+ rights so fiercely because they already know they’ve lost the war. 

“LGBTQ+ people are more visible than ever. More of our neighbours than ever believe we are deserving of basic civil rights. The youngest generations feel less constrained than ever by age-old homophobic and transphobic ideologies.

“Society has left right-wing bigots in the dust and this is their last-ditch effort to wrestle back the control they’ve already lost.”

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the "Say Gay Anyway" rally in Miami Beach, Florida on March 13, 2022.
Members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community attend the ‘Say Gay Anyway’ rally in Miami Beach, Florida on March 13, 2022. (CHANDAN KHANNA/Getty)

Wolf wants queer people to know that the wave of hate that’s currently underway will eventually come to an end – but people are going to have to be stand up for themselves and others.

“I know things are challenging and very scary right now. Real people are suffering as a result of this wave of hate. But we have been here before. Our community has been demonised, hypersexualised and used as a political wedge for ages.

“And at every point, when our backs have seemingly been against the wall, we’ve overcome. And the progress that was waiting just over those hurdles was bigger than we could have imagined. 

“We will prevail again because we are squarely on the right side of history.”

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