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OPINION: ‘Don’t Say Gay’: Do say fascist.

The DeSantis administration justifies prejudicial policy with bigoted, fear-mongering rhetoric. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR

When explaining why he believes the U.S. should not accept refugees at a Saturday speaking engagement, Gov. Ron DeSantis said that all refugees from Gaza are antisemitic.

DeSantis is no stranger to baseless, sweeping statements about minority groups. From calling drag queens and transgender people child groomers to saying that slavery was beneficial to the enslaved, demonizing and dehumanizing subjugated groups has become his modus operandi.

The DeSantis administration’s verbiage intentionally dehumanizes marginalized communities to validate its prejudiced policies and encourage voting by fear, both staple tactics of authoritarian leaders. It’s critical that young adult voters, who are most vulnerable to radicalization, educate themselves on these groups of people before falling prey to scare tactics.

DeSantis’ legislature has codified a slew of anti-LGBTQ policies into law as of late. The March 2022 ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill, which banned discussions of sexual identity or orientation in the classroom, is one of the most controversial. Florida’s latest piece of anti-trans legislation is the Aug. 23 Florida Department of Education policy, which penalizes trans college students and staff for using a bathroom not fitting their assigned gender at birth. 

Notably, when discussing these laws, DeSantis refrains from referring to the very real people they affect.

“He doesn’t talk about transgender people. You’ll never hear him humanize transgender people,” said USF professor of higher education Michael Denton in a Sept. 27 interview with The Oracle. Denton also conducts research into the experiences of intersectional groups in education.

“Very often, DeSantis will refer to transgenderism, which is not really a recognized word, it’s purely used in conservative speech and rhetoric. And the point of calling it transgenderism, like he talks about injecting transgenderism as if it’s a disease or something that can be taught…It’s the idea that it’s something that can infect your children.”

This rhetoric has an impact on real people, including many transgender members of the USF community.

“I think another narrative that the state is pushing is that transgender identity is inherently sexual or inherently perverse or predatory. I think that’s interesting. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how to answer such vitriol,” USF Trans+ Student Union Officer Andy Pham told WUSF on Feb. 8 in response to the state’s request for transgender health records.

The sexual demonization of LGBTQ people has become a staple of GOP rhetoric. In defense of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw went so far as to relate LGBTQ people to groomers.

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw wrote in a March 2022 tweet.

Pushaw continued the tirade in another tweet.

“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.”

In another instance, at a June 30 Moms for Liberty convention, DeSantis himself alleged that he witnessed drag queens threatening to “come for your children”.

Research has shown time and time again that LGBTQ people do not assault children at a higher rate than heterosexuals. In fact, less than 20% of registered sex offenders are LGBTQ, according to a 2022 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute of Law.

This is age-old rhetoric used to justify discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people by accusing them of the worst crime imaginable.

“There’s been an increase, particularly around trans people, with language that dehumanizes, objectifies, makes trans and other LGBTQ people less than human. And that’s a really important tactic of authoritarians…you want to dehumanize certain groups to make an intergroup alliance,” said Denton.

By making members of the LGBTQ community look subhuman or demonic, DeSantis not only justifies discriminatory policies, but instills fear in the population that encourages them to keep him in office. With his 2024 presidential bid coming up, the governor is campaigning at the expense of minorities, a tactic used by fascist leaders throughout history.

“The goal is to target ideological enemies and remove restraints in combating them. Fascism dehumanizes segments of the population, trying to reduce empathy and justify inhumane treatment of them. Truth, civility and decency cease to matter,” wrote Yale professor of philosophy Jason Stanley in his 2018 book “How Fascism Works”.

Vigilance against radical fear mongering is especially crucial for young adult voters, who are more impressionable to politically radical ideas than any other group, according to a 2022 study

Don’t outright believe generalizations, especially about groups that have a greater barrier to defending themselves. A quick Google search could quickly dispel the bigoted myths being spread for political gain.

While just a political tool for the Florida legislature, these policies and the rhetoric backing them have very real consequences for their subjects.