Don't Say 'Don't Say Gay': We <3 the Forever Culture War
All my life I have known nothing but the Culture War.
I was born into a political landscape defined by evangelical convictions. Abortions and gay rights and nuclear families and gender roles. Pick a side and plant your flag. Strong labor unions? Organized civil rights movements? Meaningful anti-war protests? Ghosts of a politics past.
Just about everyone fights in the culture war. Most are pretty bad at it. Think Hillary Clinton and her purse full of hot sauce or a weepy Ted Cruz wearing flannel and shooting quail. But every once in a while, a warrior so skilled, so adept at finding things for people to get mad at appears and he dictates where the battlefields of the culture war will be fought. For about five years that man was Trump. His exile from power and social media left a vacuum. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, master culture warrior, has filled that gaping hole.
Over the past couple of years, DeSantis has stepped out of Trump’s shadow to become the new face of the American conservative movement. Make America Florida, they say. He gambled and won on COVID. The Sunshine State did not turn into a graveyard of abandoned grandmas. He’s proved adept at pissing off Democrats as he cleverly uses conservative online talking points. Like at the height of the “Let’s Go Brandon” phenomenon, DeSantis held a press conference in Brandon, Florida, to announce an anti-mask mandate. He signed a proclamation saying that the Florida woman who lost to the trans swimmer was the true winner. He did his own little red scare when he passed a bill last year that said college professors had to take a survey and announce if they were communists. And just last week his administration banned math textbooks for allegedly containing Critical Race Theory.
But his real triumph has to be the Parental Rights in Education bill—more popularly referred to in liberal media as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill has become a national political touchstone. Disney got roped into the fight and reluctantly spoke against the legislation and is now the target of conservative ire. New York City Mayor Eric Adams bought digital billboards targeted at Floridians telling them to come “say gay” in the Big Apple. “Gay!” Shout it to the mountains! This was a mistake. The bait was set, and the Democrats took it.
DeSantis gets to play it cool and dismissed the commotion as typical liberal hysteria. He points out that nowhere in the bill does it say that you cannot say “gay” in public schools. The word “gay” doesn’t even appear in the bill. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, emphasized this on Twitter and said, “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.” She went on to say that “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”
So while each side calls the other a homophobe or a pedophile, what’s really in the bill? A lot of vague nonsense.
According to its supporters, the bill exists to “reenforce the fundamental right of a parent to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.” Seems reasonable enough? But then there’s this: “Classroom instruction by school room personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three, or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
How perfectly imprecise. What the hell is a “developmentally appropriate age?” Sounds like something that would be at the discretion of the individual. An uptight parent could claim that their family doesn’t believe in sex before marriage and so talking about sex or gender to their 16-year-old virgin son is not “appropriate.”
Because of its foggy legal language, the only way to establish the reality of the law would be legal precedent. That means parents would need to sue. And considering the anger your average Floridian mom has towards public schools today, ooooo boy, that won’t take long. Florida courts will be tied up with cases debating the constitutionality of this poorly worded law with attorneys charging $675 an hour and taxpayers picking up the bill. And DeSantis has already shown that he’s more than happy to line the pockets of attorneys with their exorbitant fees. He’s not gonna pay them. And perhaps that’s on purpose. Florida public schools are already struggling financially. The bill will stress out teachers for sure, but also might break the entire public school system itself. Say hello to the charter school state.
Consider giving me money so I can keep writing this newsletter. Otherwise I might sell out and become DeSantis's speechwriter and I am way more online and annoying than Christina Pushaw. Click the link below and spare the world the indignity.
Meanwhile, Florida is becoming uninhabitable. The state is on the precipice of the worst housing crisis in the country. Rent is insane. A new housing market bubble swells beyond all financial comprehension. Insurance companies see environmental catastrophe on the horizon, and their rates have skyrocketed. And yet not a single bill addressing these issues made it through the recent legislative session.
Not for lack of trying. Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County put forth bills addressing the housing crisis and rent stabilization. “Before and during the legislative session we saw the rent hikes,” Eskamani told me. “But when we brought it up, we were told that it was out of order.” Discussion over. The bills Eskamani filed never even got a hearing. Dead on arrival. “It was a constant pattern of rejecting and pivoting away from these legitimate housing issues to instead waste time on what are likely unconstitutional attacks on collective freedoms and liberties,” she said.
To Eskamani, it was a legislative session of cultures wars while the actual problems Floridians face were ignored. The morning we spoke, Eskamani told me her email inbox was full of constituents asking for help with food stamps, home insurance and rental aid. “These are the types of problems that Floridians face and none of them were explicitly addressed during the legislative session,” she said.
To make matters worse, all the media cares about is the culture war. Eskamani tried to bring attention to these issues. “But we are competing with a media system that finds drama more appealing than problem-solving. Yesterday I received eight different media requests, including from national outlets, about Disney and the Don’t Say Gay bill.”
There’s a lack of will among many Democrats to do what’s necessary to make this state tolerable. Eskamani pointed out that standing up for the housing rights of Floridians means you have to challenge corporations that might be political donors. And that’s something politicians on both sides of the aisle aren’t interested in doing. “You’re basically challenging the Florida Apartment Association, landlords, property managers and realtors, and there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who don’t want to do that because that would impact where their contributions come from,” she said.
Instead, it’s easier to just say gay. “Sometimes I feel like the culture wars benefit moderate Democrats,” she said. “It helps them to look like they actually are Democrats, because if we were just dealing with economic issues, it might be hard to tell who is a Democrat.”
(Ron DeSantis praying to the Christian God)
It might look like anti-woke crowd is going to win and return Disney programming to white heterosexual norms. The wind is certainly in their sails. But they don’t want an all-out win. The game they play forbids them from vanquishing their enemy. Politicians don’t really want to get rid of all the gay shit their constituents get mad at. They need Cheerio’s commercials to have a homosexual mixed-race couples kissing. They need to keep their base pissed off to have something that can get their base out to vote. And the success of the Don’t Say Gay bill is not going to humble the culture they hate. In fact, it’s a gift to the Democrats. Now, instead of redistributing wealth like a good liberal should, Democrats can get their constituents to stand in line to vote on a Tuesday by simply saying, “Look at least we’re not one of those psychopaths." The truth is that this polarization helps the establishment wing of both parties maintain power. Nobody in any position of power has real interest in seeing things actually change.
I think Matt Christman summed up the state of partisan politics best. He calls it dueling sadisms:
"The government cannot help you. Things are only going to get worse. But what the government can do is make it worse for others. Worse for people I don't like."