Opinion: Republicans once went after gay couples. Now they’re targeting LGBTQ kids

A man displays the signed Parental Rights in Education law in front of adults and children
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “don’t say gay” bill, in Shady Hills, Fla., on March 28.
(Douglas R. Clifford / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, April 16, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Before we delve into the latest developments in the “don’t say gay” craze sweeping statehouses in parts of the nation, let’s think back all the way to the mid-aughts, when marriage equality still seemed a ways off and a Republican president called for a constitutional amendment banning non-heterosexual unions. It was a time when California voted overwhelmingly for the first Black president and in the same election banned gay marriage (our second time doing so, in fact); when marriage bans were put on the ballot in several states as part of a cynical ploy to turn out conservative voters; and perhaps most curiously of all, when pundits on the right acknowledged publicly what Republican operatives said in private — that marriage equality was inevitable because of unstoppable changes in public attitudes, even if doing everything to delay it still paid political dividends.

It is this cynical political calculation, the Machiavellian moral panic amid broader social progress, that I keep remembering when reading about the rash of bills in Republican-controlled states like the one recently signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis restricting classroom discussions on “sexual orientation or gender identity.” Americans’ awareness of LGBTQ issues beyond marriage equality is increasing, especially with regard to gender identity and transgender people — and this is happening precisely at the moment the far right is gripped by paranoia over pedophilia. Is this the “opportunity” that Republican governors like DeSantis hope to ride to the White House, just as President George W. Bush narrowly won reelection in 2004 on a wave of panic over gay marriage?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is surrounded by clapping people and children as he displays a signed paper
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “don’t say gay” bill, in Shady Hills, Fla., on March 28.
(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times via Associated Press)

Ultimately, the political calculations fall far behind other concerns; I speculate about them only because they say something valuable about the humanity of the leaders who make them. Far more important is the grave damage these bills do to LGBTQ students in school who benefit from having their identities affirmed by their teachers and institutions. This is the reality illuminated by LZ Granderson in a column in which he wrote of yearning to be “reflected positively” as a closeted gay high school student:

“Tennessee’s HB 800 would ban learning materials that ‘promote, normalize, support or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender issues or lifestyle.’

“My God. They still refer to it as a ‘lifestyle,’ as if talking about my husband were akin to talking about coastal living. And be not mistaken: The vague wording of that bill could potentially criminalize a family photo sitting on a gay teacher’s desk if that family doesn’t look the way Tennessee lawmakers think that it should.

“Meanwhile, seeing that family photo could be the very thing a queer child in Tennessee needs to feel worthy of love.

“I don’t know what kind of person hungers to take that away from children. I do know that such people have no business commenting on what’s best for kids. But the anti-LGBTQ bills targeting trans children keep coming. The book banning in libraries keeps happening. The tropes about pedophilia have returned.”


Attempting to answer Granderson’s question of what kind of person does this, I suppose it’s the kind of person hoping to lead a party that has a history of seizing on hatred of a marginalized group — whether it’s same-sex couples seeking recognition of their unions, immigrants desiring a life outside the shadows, or gay and trans students looking for affirmation in their classrooms. I can only hope DeSantis and Co.’s hateful political ploy signals that greater acceptance of the targeted groups is mostly a matter of time, but my heart breaks thinking of the lives and futures destroyed to serve a politician’s ambitions.

Indeed, what kind of a person does this?

Amid Florida’s fight with Disney over LGBTQ rights, a Disney family member comes out as trans. Robin Abcarian writes about a conversation she had with Roy P. Disney’s child Charlee, who came out as transgender four years ago and has spoken out against Florida’s “don’t say gay” law: “Charlee can’t abide the idea that states are trying to make life harder for trans people. LGBTQ kids, Charlee said, already have to deal with high rates of depression and anxiety, not to mention bullying and suicide. ‘Then to put something like this law on top of that? They can’t learn about their community and their history at school, or play sports or use the bathroom they want to use?’” L.A. Times

Remember that record Sierra Nevada snowpack in December? It’s basically gone, says one of the researchers who recently measured the snow depth near Lake Tahoe, further indicating how extreme drought and climate change are altering California’s ability to estimate its available water resources: “Many storms with near record-breaking amounts of rain or snow would be required in a single year to make a significant dent in drought conditions. October was the second-snowiest and December the snowiest month on record at the snow lab since 1970, thanks to two atmospheric rivers that hit California. But the exceptionally dry November and January to March periods have left us with another year of below-average snowpack, rain and runoff conditions.” New York Times

We’re seeing how a billionaire candidate’s money can change the L.A. mayor’s race. Rick Caruso entered the crowded field seeking to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti and quickly shot up in the polls. You can’t turn on the TV or watch a YouTube video without seeing one of his ads, says the Times Editorial Board, and we need to get used to this even if this endless spending doesn’t guarantee Caruso success: “Blasting ads across TVs and computer screens is a good way to get voters to start paying attention — if it doesn’t eventually grate on their nerves. But if history is any guide, money isn’t the sole determinant in winning elections in Los Angeles and California. More than one wealthy person — Republican gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Meg Whitman come to mind — has found that betting their millions on winning support of voters in California was a very bad investment.” L.A. Times

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California should speed the transition to electric vehicles. The state will require all new car sales to be zero-emission by 2035 — a groundbreaking mandate that might not be ambitious enough. The editorial board urges Gov. Gavin Newsom and state regulators to take advantage of several advances and converging crises: “Climate impacts are quickly worsening, battery technology is making great strides and surging gasoline prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have underscored the perils of our reliance on fossil fuels. This moment calls for bolder action on electric vehicles, and California’s regulators should push carmakers to go further and faster.” L.A. Times

Ukraine can learn something on holding Russia accountable for war crimes — from the Soviets. “What Ukraine needs is a dedicated state commission to collect, systematize and analyze evidence of atrocities and other crimes committed during this war,” write Francine Hirsch and Eugene Finkel. “Russian propaganda falsely presents the war as a fight against Nazism. Yet, ironically, Soviet efforts during World War II to uncover and prosecute Nazi crimes in German-occupied parts of the USSR can provide a useful blueprint to hold Russia accountable.” L.A. Times

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