Republican presidential candidates attack LGBTQ+ ‘indoctrination’ in schools during TV debate

Florida governor Ron DeSantis stands behind a podium during the Republican presidential debate 2024

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has said schools should be about “education [not] indoctrination”, in his latest attack on the LGBTQ+ community during the first Republican presidential debate.

Eight candidates for the Republican nomination for next year’s election took part in the debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday (23 August), with many of them appearing critical of abortion rights, climate change and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Although LGBTQ+ issues were not largely discussed, DeSantis alluded to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, saying he would clamp down on “indoctrination” in schools. 

Confirming that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Education if he became president, DeSantis added: “The decline in education is one of the major reasons our country is in decline. We need education in this country, not indoctrination.”

He claimed it was a positive thing that schools in the Sunshine state had stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that he would “stand for you and your kids” if made it to the White House.

“We have to make sure that what our schools are doing, is focusing on solid academics,” the governor said. “In Florida, we eliminated Critical Race Theory from our K through 12 schools, we eliminated gender ideology from our K through 12 schools, and we have elevated the importance of American civics.”

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He was referring to students from kindergarten up to grade 12.

During the debate, the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, agreed that she had called for keeping trans women out of women’s sports, saying there were “a lot of crazy woke things happening in schools”. 

Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina, added: “If God made you a man, you play sports against men.”

Donald Trump opted to skip the debate, instead recording an interview with right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson. The former president claimed it didn’t make sense to take part when he is currently so far ahead in the polls.

During the debate, aired exclusively by Fox News, the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believe climate change is real. None did, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy going as far as to label it a “hoax”. 

In addition, a number of candidates called for restrictions to abortion, with former vice-president Mike Pence endorsing a national ban after about 15 weeks. 

Unsurprisingly, many of those vying for the presidency have poor records on LGBTQ+ rights, with Pence comparing trans youth accessing gender-affirming care to “kids getting a tattoo before they’re 18”, and Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey, consistently opposing same-sex marriage. 

The other candidates at the debate were the governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, and Arkansas’ former governor, Asa Hutchinson.