Using "The Children" as an Excuse for Anti-LGBTQ Laws is Nothing New for FloridaRoundup
tags: Florida, moral panics, LGBTQ history, Anita Bryant
Julio Capó, Jr. is associate professor of history and public humanities at Florida International University, author of Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940 and editor of Made by History.
Florida State Senator Shevrin “Shev” Jones is an educator and public servant who proudly serves Florida’s 35th Senate District, which includes portions of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is expected to sign into law a new mandate passed by the state legislature — largely on partisan lines — titled the “Parental Rights in Education” bill.
Its opponents have rebranded it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as it bans teachers, staff and others from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade — grade levels where no discussion of sexual education is mandated — or in any classroom or with any age group where it may be deemed “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The bill was among the laws that DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature passed in a culture war-dominated legislative session that also included a 15-week abortion ban and the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” The latter seeks to poke fun of calls for Black liberation, dismissed as efforts made by a “woke” crowd, while also purporting to be an acronym for the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act.” It limits education and training on race and identity at public schools and private businesses. DeSantis even called 2022 “the year of the parent” in Florida.
These efforts form the latest chapter in Florida’s long history of antigay policy and a political culture that has cloaked forms of homophobia, transphobia, sexism and anti-Blackness as efforts to protect the rights of parents and the well-being of their children.
In the early 1950s, State Sen. Charley Eugene Johns led the “pork chop gang,” a group of 20 state senators from mostly rural northern Florida who dominated state politics and, among other things, shared a commitment to maintaining racial segregation, especially in schools.
The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education — which ruled that laws mandating racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional — prompted fears among White Southerners. This helped Johns gain the support he needed to create a legislative committee tasked with investigating the perceived subversive and radical elements he and his fellow Southern Democrats associated with Black civil rights advocacy. In 1956, the legislature created the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, which became better known as the “Johns Committee'' because of the senator‘s central role.
The Johns Committee was initially tasked with investigating groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for signs of communist infiltration and influence. This effort stemmed from anti-Black sentiments that even found some White Southerners arguing that the Black civil rights movement was a Soviet plot meant to disrupt American harmony and democracy.
Yet, after unsuccessful attempts to uncover such subversion, the committee turned its attention more fully to another scapegoat it believed threatened the safety of Florida’s children: LGBTQ people.