Meredith Carroll: No spring break for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s bigotry
Years ago when my stepson was a high school freshman, I asked him if there were any girls he was interested in going to the homecoming dance with.
“No,” he said.
“Are there any boys you want to go with?”
“Very funny,” he said, not laughing.
“I am not joking. I have been reading about how parents should stop assuming they know their kids’ sexual orientation,” I said. “Ideally parents would give their children the grace to come out as gay or straight.”
His glower transformed into a death glare. “The answer is still no.”
It was an exchange we both still remember (albeit somewhat differently), and it is an approach I maintain today, still unapologetically, with my younger children. Making a point to normalize how we speak about both straight and queer love has never been part of a subversive plot to prematurely sexualize my children but rather a way of affirming and supporting all aspects of their identities.
Not until I got to college did it occur to me that I might know kids who were gay, and not because I was raised in an exclusively heterosexual community. The guiding yet unspoken heteronormative tenet at the time and place I grew up was that everyone was straight, except for the people you didn’t talk about, and maybe Boy George, who was probably just another pretentious new wave pop star with really good eye makeup. Thankfully, a generation later it is safe to say that failure to acknowledge the existence of more than two genders and sexual identifies will not shame all of the others into extinction.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may well have been fantasizing about the simpler days of ’80s glam rock on Monday when he signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill that will restrict public primary school teachers in his state from “encouraging” discussions that include sexual orientation or gender identity beginning July 1. Three days earlier he signed a separate but equally nebulous piece of legislation targeting “explicit” books in school. (Still unconfirmed are rumors that his next plan is to legalize the burning of teenage witches at the stake, “Because no child should ever again be permitted to communicate with her cat in the seditious way Sabrina did,” DeSantis said.)
Teaching children “they can be whatever they want to be … is not something that’s appropriate for any place, but especially not in Florida,” said the chief executive of the state that, to be fair, also needed a law prohibiting sexual relations between humans and porcupines.
It was not as if a movement was afoot in Florida to mandate Drag Queen Story Hour, the international program celebrating diversity in which drag queens read stories in libraries, schools and bookstores to capture “the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of children and (give) kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.” (On the other hand, requiring DeSantis to sit through a Drag Queen Story Hour might inspire him to look beyond gender stereotypes to encourage less bullying and wider acceptance. If Florida children have no choice but to learn about people like DeSantis, they would also benefit from knowing a kinder, gentler and more fabulous way exists.)
Kindergartners comfortable saying the word “gay” or who identify as gay are no more committed to homosexuality for life than they are committed to being a nose-picker. (Because if we get to decide who we are as a 5-year-old, then, hi, I am Wonder Woman.) Forbidding small children from using the word “gay” and its synonyms, or from having discussions about different types of people, families and love only serves to undermine the boundaries of education and manifest a world of awkwardness with inadequate emotional, social and mental health support.
In fact, Florida schoolchildren may have no better example than their governor of how identities can fluctuate over the course of a lifetime: By all accounts DeSantis was not born a bigot but instead has chosen to identify as one as he’s gotten older. There is even still time for him to effect positive change by demonstrating to the children in Florida that saying, talking about or being gay is not wrong or bad, just a matter of fact for many people, all of whom are worthy of unconditional acceptance and love (if not by him, than at least by most everyone else).
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.