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DeSantis, Shapiro & Co. Want To Put My Kid in the Closet 

Bringing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to schools? The fear is the point.
February 15, 2022
DeSantis, Shapiro & Co. Want To Put My Kid in the Closet 
(Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Nineties fever is upon us. Wide-legged jeans and bucket hats are everywhere. Pam & Tommy’s sextape is on the tube. Death Row Records has schoolmarms squirming. And in Florida, Ron Desantis’s Republicans are plotting to revive another grody artifact of my childhood, with an assist from Ben Shapiro and the conservative media set:

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Part Deux: Scholastic Boogaloo.

Critics have termed the proposal “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and I have to be honest, when this first hit my radar I thought it was too ridiculous to be something that could actually become law.

Maybe this was one of those cases where a freakazoid state legislator proposes some hopeless nonsense for media attention? Or activists overstate the particulars of what’s being proposed for attention? Or maybe it’s one of those scenarios where a president attempts a multifaceted putsch to stay in power and New York Times columnists tell us we shouldn’t take it that seriously because he’s just a big joke and nothing will come of it?

But as it happened: No.

I talked with some people involved in Florida state politics and Don’t Say Gay is not at all DOA.

It has passed the education committees in both Florida’s House and Senate. It has the support of the governor. It is on track to be debated in both chambers in the coming weeks. And while controversial bills that arise early in the session sometimes die on the vine, as things stand today there remains a political path in Florida to codify this effort to silence any gay talk in the state’s schools.

If they are successful in Florida they won’t let teachers or students talk about Bruno* and the silence will be enforced by Florida Man.

The bill’s supporters aren’t even bothering to hide their intentions with Don’t Say Gay. The case these culture warriors are making for a DADT redux invokes all the wanton cruelty of the bipartisan O.G., but with the added innovation of bounty-style litigiousness that modern day Republicans find so appealing.

Here are the basics of what’s being proposed, where the relevant segment of the legislation is identical in both the House and Senate versions: “A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

The enforcement section of the legislation takes a cue from the Texas abortion bounty legislation: “A parent of a student may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates this paragraph and seek injunctive relief. A court may award damages.”

So what exactly constitutes “encouragement” of classroom discussion?

Lets say a teacher asked their students to make a Valentine and the sample he gave was the card he made for his husband. Is that a violation? Or what if a student asked to draw a picture of their two moms? How about if she wanted to make her Valentine to Mirabel Madrigal. Or Spider-Ham? (Ye gods—encouraging bestiality!)

Or what about a project that asks students to complete a family tree? Could my daughter turn in an assignment featuring her two dads? On the anniversary of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, could a kid whose uncle died there talk about him in class? Could the school assign the reading of My Tio’s Pulse?

The answer to these hypotheticals all hinge on whether a crazy-ass parent of another student sees the valentine or family tree or Pulse book and decides to target the school. In each case, the Don’t Say Gay bill would give our Panhandle Karen something to sue over.

Representative Carlos Smith, the first openly gay Latino member of the state’s legislature, argues that the open-ended nature of the language is a feature, not a bug for those pushing the bill.

“Lawyers are going to be conservative in a way that censors conversations,” he told me. In at least some school districts that is going to “push LGBTQ families back in the closet.” His view is that by keeping the language vague, a better-safe-than-sorry ethos will encourage certain districts to shut down all of these types of conversations.

This is especially a concern in the most sensitive scenario: safety precautions when a student is struggling with questions about their own sexuality or identity. Conversations with mentors at school can be an important outlet for this type of at-risk student. But a Don’t Say Gay bill would make administrators especially reluctant to have staff engage for fear of legal reprisals.

In short they “want kids to be fearful,” Smith said.

Arguments made by supporters of the bill suggest that this worst-case view is not fear-mongering.

Randy Fine, a Republican state representative, said the bill would prevent “sex education” discussions in elementary school. But “sex education” isn’t even mentioned in the bill, he’s just interpreting it in the broadest possible sense. Travis Hutson, a Republican state senator, said the bill would ban a homework assignment that had the premise “Sally has two moms or Johnny has two dads.”

So in Hutson’s hypothetical, my daughter’s family couldn’t be mentioned in a word problem without the school risking trouble.

Enjoy the state-mandated closet, kids. Therapy is only a few decades away.

On his Daily Wire podcast last week, Ben Shapiro dedicated most of a show to a defense of the closeting of gay teachers and students—or those with LGBT families.

Shapiro passionately defended restricting their speech about the most important people in their lives. He did so one day before dedicating an episode to poor, pitiable Joe Rogan and the left’s brutal campaign to silence him. (Airing these two episodes back-to-back does make one wonder what will happen if the IDW cancel culture bots ever achieve sentience.)

Shapiro pushed back on an NBC News report stating that opponents “contend the bill would be detrimental to the mental health of LGBTQ children and teachers, preventing them from openly talking about themselves and their families.”

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Teachers have no right to talk about themselves and their families in the classroom. That is not a right that adheres to teachers. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about the family lives of my teachers.”

Yeah the last thing a family values conservative would want teachers to talk about is their loving family! Icky! Take that TMI picture of you and your lesbian partner on a camping trip off your desk and stick it in the drawer, perv!

Among the other items Shapiro objected to during his lengthy harangue: “A picture book for second graders about a family with two moms” and teaching that “heterosexual marriage is in every way morally equivalent to homosexual marriage” against the will of parents who disagree.

He argued that those who oppose his Anita Bryantification of schools are merely whiners. “If I am not allowed to come into a classroom and teach the small school children about my gay marriage this means that my rights have been violated,” he screeched sarcastically.

As for whether teachers should have to live in a culture of fear where they risk career calamity if they commit the crime of mentioning their family? Shapiro saw no problem with that.

“I want teachers to feel like they are on thin ice. . . . They should constantly be feeling like I am looking over their shoulder.”

The fear is the point, to borrow a phrase.

In some ways it is refreshing that the family values crowd is taking off the mask that they put on as gay rights has become not just normalized but trendy in American culture.

Seeing the same dickweeds who wanted to amend the Constitution to make my family illegal stand next to LGBTQ for Trump flags always left me feeling a little icky inside. It made you ponder whether they had been faking their previous position, or whether it’s the new rainbow paint job that’s fugazi.

The success of this bill in Florida, backed by both the Republican party’s heir apparent and the right’s most successful digital age media star suggests the latter.

And that worries Smith, “What we’re seeing is a retrogression of the work we have done. We are going backwards.”

Back to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. To the closet. To the pain of kids having to shield the truth about themselves and their families to make a bunch of bigots not feel any discomfort.

Oh my God, we’re back again.

* Their loving, committed same-sex partner or LGBT family member

Correction March 8, 2022, 8:03 p.m.: The article originally said that Rep. Carlos Smith was the first openly gay member of the Florida legislature. Smith was the first openly gay Latino member. The text has been changed accordingly.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.