Ron DeSantis Hopes His Freedom Summer Will Outshine Pride Month

Greetings from sunny and fascist Florida!

Yes, that’s right. I’m writing this column from the least LGBTQ-friendly state in the nation. My wife, son and I are here visiting family. Do I wish that I had no family living in Florida? Why, yes. Yes, I do. Alas. Here I am in the Sunshine State during Pride Month.

Oh, excuse me. I mean “Freedom Summer,” a designation created by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who decided that bridges around the state that have historically been lit up in rainbow colors will instead be lit up in red, white and blue. Way to take the word “freedom” and the colors red, white and blue and use them as a way to tell LGBTQ+ Floridians to go pound sand.

You’d think — or hope, anyway — that the horrific massacre at the 2016 Pulse nightclub in Orlando would have changed attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people in the state, but it really didn’t.

In fact, over the last few years, anti-LGBTQ+ policies in Florida have changed the climate here for the worse. And by climate, I mean the social climate, though the climate-climate has also suffered! Wild that Republicans in states most impacted by extreme weather events think global warming is just some woke nonsense.

Karrissa T. Wade, a Jacksonville drag queen, told First Coast News that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation “has just opened the door for more and more hate.”

Which is no doubt the intention.

But while DeSantis and Florida Republicans have gone out of their way to enact an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, they haven’t been entirely successful.

For example, last year, an Orlando judge stopped a ban on kids attending public drag shows.

But wait, there’s more. “In March, [Equality Florida] announced a settlement with the state over key provisions of the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law that DeSantis rammed through the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2022,” The Guardian reports. “Under the terms of that settlement, the state agreed to reinstate the rights of students and teachers to speak freely in the classroom about LGBTQ+ people, families and issues.”

So there’s some gay-sayin’ going on in Florida after all!

DeSantis even dialed down his book-banning fervor.

In April, he signed a bill into law that “protects schools from activists trying to politicize and disrupt a [school] district’s [book] review process,” reports The Guardian.

You’ll remember that, for a time, right-wing conservatives were challenging hundreds of books, demanding a review process to get them removed from library shelves. Books about Black history and LGBTQ+ people were targeted. Some teachers were so afraid of getting in trouble that they removed all of the books in their classrooms.

As The Guardian puts it, even though it was DeSantis himself who was in favor of policies that effectively banned books, he declared that “some people are taking the curriculum transparency and trying to weaponize that for political purposes.”

You don’t say! Gay.

When my family and I arrived at the Orlando airport I saw a Pride display at a book/souvenir store. I half expected to see DeSantis burst through the store’s glass window like a fascist Kool-Aid man and topple the display.

It seems like losing bigly to convicted felon and disgraced former president Donald Trump in the Republican primary might have something to do with DeSantis cooling his anti-LGBTQ+ jets a bit.

“He wasn’t pushing the more radical elements of his agenda through the state legislature in 2024 as he did one year ago because they didn’t bring him the presidency,” Charles Zelden, a professor of history and politics at Nova Southeastern University told The Guardian. “He is thinking about his future as a politician and what comes next after the governorship — and he seems to be trying to moderate some of his harsher stances.”

Wild if true! Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t moderated any of his stances and Republicans are loving it. So who knows if this is actually a conscious plan by DeSantis or if he’s just so destroyed by his absolutely pitiful showing in the primary that not even hurting the gays brings him joy anymore.

Not that there hasn’t been anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced this year. But unlike previous years, the state legislature doesn’t seem to have the same appetite for harmful legislation.

“We stopped or neutralized 21 of 22 anti-LGBTQ bills this session,” Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director of Equality Florida, told The Guardian. “Momentum is on our side.”

I sure hope so! But I also hope that my family members in Florida get the hell out of here.