DeSantis campaign video crossed a line for gay right-wing pundits despite governor’s record on LGBT+ rights

LGBT+ influencers condemned a meme-filled video approvingly calling his agenda ‘totalitarianism in disguise’

Alex Woodward
Thursday 06 July 2023 23:56 BST
Pete Buttigieg mocks Ron DeSantis over anti-LGBT+ video

Ron DeSantis has championed his record targeting LGBT+ people, particularly transgender youth, with a platform that has echoed in state legislatures across the US and in the halls of Congress and drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups.

The governor’s far-reaching platform targeting civil liberties and trans rights is fuelling his campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, with a pledge to impose his agenda at the national level.

At the end of Pride Month, his campaign shared a video clipping together past statements from his Republican rival Donald Trump celebrating Pride and vowing protections for LGBT+ rights, before cutting to a fast-paced series of headlines and comments labeling the DeSantis agenda “draconian”, a threat to “trans existence” and “totalitarianism in disguise,” with a series of images and quick edits that mirror far-right and authoritarian memes.

That appeared to be the last straw for gay right-wing influencers, pundits and political organizations who have otherwise endorsed him. An anti-trans group with close ties to the DeSantis camp appears to have imploded over the video, with a Gays Against Groomers co-founder resigning in protest after the “extremely anti-gay” video.

Despite appearing in a pro-DeSantis ad less than a year ago, David Leatherwood appears to be among several recent departures from the far-right group, with speculation that blowback over the latest video provided a pretext among now-former DeSantis boosters to step away after lagging poll numbers.

Log Cabin Republicans called the video’s message “divisive and desperate”.

“This old playbook has been tried in the past and has failed – repeatedly,” group president Charles Moran said in a statement. “Ron DeSantis and his team can’t tell the difference between commonsense gays and the radical Left gays. He, sadly, sees them all the same. His naive policy positions are dangerous and politically stupid.”

Republican US Rep George Santos of New York, who had vocally supported the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year, now says he feels “used” by Mr DeSantis.

“I used to think he was a great governor,” he told The Hill. “Now, I’m starting to think differently.”

Former Trump adviser and ambassador Richard Grenell, who is gay, called the video “undeniably homophobic.”

Caitlin Jenner, who appears in the video, said that the governor has “hit a new low”.

“But he’s so desperate he’ll do anything to get ahead – that’s been the theme of his campaign,” she wrote. “You can’t win a general, let alone 2028 by going after people that are integral parts of the conservative movement!”

In May, Mr DeSantis approved a slate of bills that restrict affirming healthcare for transgender minors and threaten access to care for trans adults, forbid people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity, target public drag performances, and prevent people from using their chosen pronouns in school.

Last year, he signed a law barring trans women and girls from playing on public school teams that align with their gender.

He also backed legislation derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting classroom discussion of issues related to gender and sexuality, sparking fears that its broad scope could be used to effectively block discussion of LGBT+ people, history and events from state schools, and threaten schools with potential lawsuits over perceived violations.

The governor expanded the law to explicitly cover all grade levels this year.

Florida’s surgeon general Joseph Ladapo has been accused of deliberately misrepresenting research surrounding gender-affirming care to promote state policy and health guidelines that health experts have labelled “incorrect and scientifically unfounded.”

The governor’s former press secretary, Christina Pushaw, helped elevate the “groomer” smear alleging LGBT+ people of abusing children. She now works for his campaign.

“Opposing the federal recognition of ‘Pride Month’ isn’t ‘homophobic.’ We wouldn’t support a month to celebrate straight people for sexual orientation, either,” she wrote in defence of the video on Twitter. “It’s unnecessary, divisive, pandering. In a country as vast and diverse as the USA, identity politics is poison.”

Mr DeSantis himself has defended the video, telling far-right influencer Tami Lohren that the former president is “a pioneer in injecting gender ideology into the mainstream, where he was having men compete against women in his beauty pageants, I think that’s totally fair game.”

“He’s now campaigning, saying the opposite, that he doesn’t think that you should have men competing in women’s things like athletics,” he added.

The former president, meanwhile, has accelerated his campaign against trans people, including plans to strip federal funds from schools that discuss “gender ideology” and impose a national ban on trans women and girls participating in sports that match their gender.

He also wants to direct the US Food and Drug Administration to study the effects of gender-affirming healthcare and so-called “trans ideology” on mental health and “violence”, amplifying a baseless narrative that trans people are responsible for violent attacks across the country.

Mr Trump’s four years in office included banning trans people from openly serving in the US military and reversing federal guidance under the Civil Rights Act that protected trans people from employment discrimination.

The US Department of Education during his administration also eliminated guidance that ensured protections for trans students, among a slate of other measures opposed by LGBT+ advocates.

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