Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law is part of a nationwide push by Republicans to score political points by attacking gay and transgender students. We speak with Democratic Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay state senator, about how the controversial measure, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade, is considered another effort by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to drum up support for his anticipated 2024 presidential run by marginalizing gay and transgender students. We also feature the viral speech from Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow denouncing her opponents for accusing her of “grooming” children, and remarks by Missouri state Representative Ian Mackey, who spoke out against a bill to allow school districts to vote on whether to ban trans student athletes from youth sports.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about this country. Turning from voting rights to this other issue that you addressed in Florida that’s been spreading to other states. Florida passed the controversial law in April known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, banning classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade. The move is seen as another effort by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to drum up support for a potential 2024 presidential run by marginalizing gay and transgender students and the children of queer and trans parents.
Just last week, we saw similar efforts in Michigan, that led to a state lawmaker’s impassioned defense of LGBTQ+ youth in a speech that’s since gone viral. Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow made national headlines after she responded to an attack by her Republican colleague Lana Theis, who accused McMorrow in a fundraising appeal of, quote, “grooming and sexualizing kindergarteners.” Theis also accused Morrow of seeking to teach that, quote, “eight-year-olds are responsible for slavery.” This is Senator McMorrow’s full response from the Michigan Senate floor Tuesday.
LT. GOV. GARLIN GILCHRIST II: The president recognizes Senator McMorrow.
SEN. MALLORY McMORROW: Thank you, Mr. President.
I didn’t expect to wake up yesterday to the news that the senator from the 22nd District had overnight accused me by name of grooming and sexualizing children in an email fundraising for herself. So I sat on it for a while, wondering, “Why me?” And then I realized: Because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme, because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of, quote, “parental rights” if another parent is standing up to say no. So, then what? Then you dehumanize and marginalize me. You say that I’m one of them. You say, “She’s a groomer. She supports pedophilia. She wants children to believe that they were responsible for slavery and to feel bad about themselves because they’re white.”
Well, here’s a little bit of background about who I really am. Growing up, my family was very active in our church. I sang in the choir. My mom taught CCD. One day our priest called a meeting with my mom and told her that she was not living up to the church’s expectations and that she was disappointing. My mom asked why. Among other reasons, she was told it was because she was divorced and because the priest didn’t see her at Mass every Sunday.
So, where was my mom on Sundays? She was at the soup kitchen with me. My mom taught me at a very young age that Christianity and faith was about being part of a community, about recognizing our privilege and blessings and doing what we can to be of service to others, especially people who are marginalized, targeted and who had less, often unfairly. I learned that service was far more important than performative nonsense like being seen in the same pew every Sunday or writing “Christian” in your Twitter bio and using that as a shield to target and marginalize already-marginalized people.
I also stand on the shoulders of people like Father Ted Hesburgh, the longtime president of the University of Notre Dame, who was active in the civil rights movement, who recognized his power and privilege as a white man, a faith leader and the head of an influential and well-respected institution, and who saw Black people in this country being targeted and discriminated against and beaten, and reached out to lock arms with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was alive, when it was unpopular and risky, and marching alongside them to say, “We’ve got you,” to offer protection and service and allyship to try to right the wrongs and fix injustice in the world.
So, who am I? I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom, who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism somehow means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense. No child alive today is responsible for slavery. No one in this room is responsible for slavery. But each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history. Each and every single one of us decides what happens next and how we respond to history and the world around us. We are not responsible for the past. We also cannot change the past. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen or deny people their very right to exist.
I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom. I want my daughter to know that she is loved, supported and seen for whoever she becomes. I want her to be curious, empathetic and kind. People who are different are not the reason that our roads are in bad shape after decades of disinvestment or that healthcare costs are too high or that teachers are leaving the profession. I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian. We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives. And I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.
So I want to be very clear right now. Call me whatever you want. I hope you brought in a few dollars. I hope it made you sleep good last night. I know who I am. I know what faith and service means and what it calls for in this moment. We will not let hate win.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow in a speech in the state Senate in Michigan, now viral. She gave that speech on Tuesday, after being accused by a fellow state legislator of, quote, “grooming kindergarteners” for her views.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, the state House has approved a bill to allow school districts to vote on whether to ban trans student athletes from youth sports. The Republican lawmaker who proposed the amendment, state Representative Chuck Basye, said it was to “save women’s sports.” A gay Missouri lawmaker, Ian Mackey, confronted Bayse in a floor speech that also went viral, comparing the anti-trans bill to his own experience as a queer student growing up.
REP. IAN MACKEY: I was afraid of people like you growing up, and I grew up in Hickory County, Missouri. I grew up in a school district that would vote tomorrow to put this in place. And for 18 years, I walked around with nice people like you, who took me to ball games, who told me how smart I was, and then went to the ballot and voted for crap like this! And I couldn’t wait to get out. I couldn’t wait to move to a part of our state that would reject this stuff in a minute. I couldn’t wait. And thank god, I made it. Thank god, I made it out. And I think every day of the kids who are still there, who haven’t made it out, who haven’t escaped from this kind of bigotry! Gentlemen, I’m not afraid of you anymore, because you’re going to lose. You may win this today, but you’re going to lose!
AMY GOODMAN: That’s gay Missouri lawmaker Ian Mackey. But before all that, it was Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prompted our guest today, Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones, the state’s first gay senator, to speak out against the measure on Florida’s state Senate floor in Tallahassee last month.
SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: Just imagine living your life of 30 years and you coming to your parents and you’re talking about who you are, and you’re lying to them about who you are. I never wanted to disappoint my dad. I even told him to watch this today. I don’t think you all understand that even rerunning for office, it was difficult, because people calling you names, people saying things to you, and all you want to do is serve. I never knew that living my truth would cause church members to leave my dad’s church, or friends to stop talking to me, or families to make jokes about who you are. In my heart, I don’t believe any of you in here, my colleagues, many of who I’ve known for years — I believe that we all want to do right. But it seems as if politics has — we have gone down a road to where we’re scared to just step out to make sure we’re not hurting people.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that’s our guest today, Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay state senator. Last week, Republican Florida Governor DeSantis signed into law a measure approved by the Republican state lawmakers to rescind Disney World’s self-governing status, after he and his allies blasted Disney for opposing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. As we continue with state Senator Shevrin Jones, if you could first elaborate — I mean, the power of your speech, your personal speaking from the heart of what it meant for you to grow up with — in your father’s household, and what it meant to then be voting with the legislators that challenge your identity?
SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: You know, Amy, I wanted to convey a message to my colleagues that I wasn’t a hypothetical, because that was what they were speaking on in the chambers. Everything was hypothetically speaking, hypothetically speaking. And I wanted to make it clear that I’m a member of this body. I sit in these chambers with you. And I wanted to be clear to them that I have a story that’s behind this and this person that you see right now, and I wanted to share that.
I was raised in a very conservative household. My dad is a pastor of a very large congregation. My mom was a principal at a school. And I wanted to ensure to them that I was raised in a good home, because there was this tone that these children who are gay, which by the bill sponsor said that many of them come from broken households or saying that teachers are socially engineering children. I wasn’t socially engineered. I was loved inside my household. And I wanted them to know that I was neither of what they were trying to convey, but this is who I am.
And that’s what I wanted to convey, to not just them. It was to those young people who were outside. Amy, you could hear them outside chanting and crying and chanting and crying. And I don’t know what it would have felt like to be a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old standing outside to do that, because I just didn’t have that type of courage at the time. But I have the courage now to stand up to bullies who are doing this type of things to a generation of young people, where young people are four times more likely to — LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide, not because of who they are but because of how they’re treated. And you have to stand up to bullies. And that was the one way that I was going to. And we must continue to do that all across this country.
AMY GOODMAN: And then the issue of revoking Disney’s special district status. Now, this is complicated. The longtime Bernie Sanders aide Warren Gunnels tweeted, “End Disney’s corporate welfare because its CEO got a $423 million compensation package, manufactures its toys with sweatshop labor, replaced US tech workers with cheaper labor from abroad & still doesn’t pay middle class wages–not because it won’t discriminate against gay kids.” Now, this is very interesting, because you have a progressive analysis that they shouldn’t have the special district, and then you have Republican Governor DeSantis saying, you know, “Why should this corporation have free speech rights?” — which many progressives often raise. It’s not a corporation that should have free speech rights. It’s people. Your thoughts on this, Shevrin Jones?
SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: Well, I think we have to be clear about something, that the Republicans just gave Disney a $163 million tax break, but then, out of the same breath, you’re taking their special district away from them. So, you can tell that this is the Republicans being petty at its best, because it’s clear that this has been in place for over 50 years. And as a matter of fact, Universal Studios has two special districts. Did they come after Universal? They did not. They came particularly right after Disney, because the corporation did not — does not agree with what the governor and the Republicans have done. And it’s fair to say that right now Disney and Universal Studios are the — is the largest employers of Floridians within the state, employing over 80,000 people. Eighty thousand people. But here’s what we’re not talking about, that if this happens —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: This is what I will say, that the tax that is happening will be taxed on the backs of the Floridians, over $2 billion.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Florida’s first openly gay state senator.
That does it for our hour. Democracy Now! has an immediate opening for a news writer/producer. Check out democracynow.org for details and apply immediately. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.