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Why Ron DeSantis views attacks on drag queens as a great presidential election issue
It's a cynical, sinister crusade, using a 1947 court ruling, and it poses a threat to every LGBTQ person. It's also a threat to every American.
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Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is making headlines again by using a 1947 Florida Supreme Court ruling which bans “men impersonating women” in a complaint he filed against a restaurant, threatening to shut it down, seizing its liquor license.
DeSantis pointed to a video taken at the R House restaurant in Miami — during its “Drag Brunch” —- showing a child walking with a drag queen, and said in a news conference that investigators found minors present and a “children’s menu” at the afternoon, outdoor event. This was an escalation of the attack on drag shows DeSantis made weeks ago, floating the idea of having child protective services investigate parents who take their children to drag performances.
It seems preposterous to many, and on the surface a lot of people will say this is a big loser as a political issue in any general election — and it may well be. Drag, after all, part of American culture — going back to folks like comedian Milton Berle (and way, way before) and right up to RuPaul’s Drag Race today. For many people it’s great entertainment, and certainly nothing nefarious.
But it’s not difficult to discern how this is all part of DeSantis’s morality crusade to court Christian nationalists and the unhinged, conspiracy-addled MAGA base by attacking the LGBTQ movement as he seeks a presidential run, while also believing he can bring in some suburban voters and others, or at least not alienate them.
That’s because DeSantis has astutely, and sinisterly, focused on issues involving LGBTQ people or culture only as they relate to children. He knows that the vast majority of Americans support marriage equality — a romantic and legal bond between two adults — so he’s steered clear of commenting on the Respect for Marriage Act, for example, which, if passed, would have the federal government recognize same-sex marriage and interracial marriage should the Supreme Court threaten either or both. In fact, he’s rarely if ever talked about marriage equality at all.
DeSantis knows attacking same-sex marriage might alienate a lot of voters, as marriage equality is so broadly accepted now. But DeSantis also knows that people often follow emotion (and unconscious bias) rather than facts when it comes to their children, especially if parents are less educated about LGBTQ issues. He’s pushed and passed the “Don’t say gay” law, discussing it as legislation to give parents oversight regarding their children’s education, when it’s really about silencing and punishing LGBTQ students, faculty and parents.
It’s something DeSantis knows will bring loyal devotion from the evangelical theocrats, the QAnon conspiracists and others in the MAGA cult, but also may play well with voters whom he can convince should be worried about indoctrination in schools — and thus his spokesperson pushed the odious “groomer” lie. At the very least, DeSantis is betting on those voters, even if they don’t totally buy it, not being alienated or seeing him as necessarily homophobic.
Some polls have shown most Americans want their children to learn even in the youngest grades about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — discussions about diversity and identity (as distinct from discussions about sexual issues or acts), and are opposed to “Don’t say gay” laws.
But other polls have shown fewer Americans supporting these discussions. It all comes down to how the question is asked and, more importantly, what they’re being told by politicians and others about what’s actually being taught in schools — especially if they can be convinced that sexual acts are being discussed in lower grades (even though it’s not happening at all.)
DeSantis is banking on those voters in his attack on drag as well, which in his news conference he connected to what he couches as sexually suggestive clothing and behavior in front of children — even though no sexual activity has been reported at the events at which he’s wagged his finger. He’s relying on an uneasiness among some voters beyond the Christian nationalist and MAGA base, especially if he twists the facts. And he’s betting that even if they disagree with him, it won’t be a dealbreaker if he connects with them on other issues.
In the process, DeSantis is whipping up hate, the kind that leads to violence, equating LGBTQ people with “filth.” The 1947 ruling banning “men impersonating women” that he relied upon in his complaint filed against the R House actually uses that wording:
The final decree [from the appellate court] restrained appellants from "exhibiting for public entertainment any show or acts using female impersonators who are in fact males, and any other acts or songs, dances or jokes which are suggestive and which tend to injure the manners and morals of the people.”..
…It is well settled that a lawful business may be abated if conducted in a way to corrupt public morals…
…The chancellor may well have determined that [the show’s] major connotations were evil, that it was exerting a corrupting influence and that the time had arrived to abate it….
…There is no greater impediment to mass virtue than a ration of filth, it is in fact, as allergic to filthy conversation as the victim of hay fever is to an outburst of ragweed. This is the theory on which laws for the abatement of nuisances of this kind are promulgated and enforced.
The drag performances in question are held outdoors, in broad daylight, and there’s nothing about them that is covert or engaging in sex acts. The complaint, however, ties in all kinds of performances across the country, whether they are sexually suggestive — and held in nightclubs at night, for adults — or not, including drag queen story-telling hours with children. DeSantis purposely meant to conflate drag with transgender people, whom he and the GOP mercilessly attack in words and in laws they’ve passed, and with all gender non-conforming people. That means all gay, lesbian and bisexual people by default as well.
This is also an attack on the First Amendment and on every American’s right to express themselves. The ruling that DeSantis relies upon would, in a normal world, likely be overturned in federal court if challenged. It is not about children at all. It’s rather a morals law from the McCarthy Era meant to regulate “deviant” behavior among adults.
Of course, with the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, packed with extremists by Donald Trump, I’m not sure how it might be viewed now. And if the courts upheld a law like this, who knows what’s next?
And that’s why DeSantis is a threat not only to LGBTQ people, but to every American.
Hi all, and thanks for reading! I’m taking a bit of a break this week in the heart of summer, including from my SiriusXM program, so posting will be lighter. Thanks again for sharing my pieces and for the support.