Miami Florida – Marking the latest salvo in a barrage of socially conservative legislation in the United States, Florida lawmakers have passed a series of bills limiting access to abortion, restricting the teaching of critical race theory and banning lessons on gender identity. gender for public school students. to the third grade.
The bills, backed this month by Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature and expected to become law within days, are part of a nationwide backlash against recent progress on minority rights. , critics say, and its effects could be felt for years to come.
“They represent a pretty extreme infringement on our liberties and freedoms as Floridians, and their impact will be far-reaching,” said Kirk Bailey, political director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“The governor’s policies are becoming more radical, and these bills move forward because legislators know they have the support of [Governor Ron] DeSantis,” he told Al Jazeera.
DeSantis, whose office did not respond to multiple interview requests, is expected to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States in the future. Although the governor has not confirmed such speculation, he took the opportunity last month to promote his career at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.
“We need people across the country who are willing to put on the full armor of God, to stand strong against the schemes of the left,” DeSantis said. “You will meet fire arrows, but the shield of faith will stop them. You will be victorious.”
‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill
The flurry of legislation passed in Florida this month includes a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; a bill to end classroom discussion of topics like white supremacy and its deleterious effects on non-white Americans; and a bill to prohibit teachers from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity lessons to students in third grade or younger.
Opponents say the latest piece of legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, will further marginalize the LGBTQ community. The chief executive of Disney, a major employer in Florida, announced last week that the company would halt all political donations in the state, after initially drawing criticism for not taking a strong stand against the bill.
“Clearly this is not just an issue about a Florida bill, but another challenge to basic human rights,” Executive Director Bob Chapek wrote in a letter to staff released Friday.
DeSantis rejected the company’s position, saying government policies must “be based on the best interests of the citizens of Florida, not the musings of awake corporations.”
The governor and other proponents of the bill have cast the issue as one of parental rights. His allies say there is no intention to target minority groups, even as DeSantis has publicly declared war on “awakened” activism and the left’s alleged assault on traditional American values.
“[Gay parents] I would love this bill because it empowers parents and I support the idea that they are in charge of their children’s education,” Republican Senator Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the bill, told Al Jazeera.
“School districts sometimes get too involved in the social engineering of children. They shouldn’t try to explain and acknowledge all the social debates that exist.”
Threatening social progress
Florida is not alone in its campaign against “wake-up culture.” Across the United States, conservative politicians have made a concerted effort in recent years to push through legislation that threatens social progress, critics say.
Earlier this month, the Governor of Iowa signed a law that prohibits transgender girls and women from competing in school sporting events. Ten other Republican-led states have passed similar measures in the past two years.
On the subject of critical race theory, a field of study that explores the racism inherent in government institutions, dozens of states have passed or are considering legislation to limit its application in the classroom. And in Mississippi, the Supreme Court is reviewing a law that directly challenges the landmark Roe v Wade abortion ruling.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway across the country to suppress voting rights for minority communities, including through measures like Florida’s stricter voter ID requirements.
Critics warn that such measures are aimed at reversing years of profits on behalf of historically marginalized communities in the US.
“We’ve seen calls for a reckoning on race, greater visibility and respect for transgender rights, and every time you see progress, there are forces that want to reverse those gains,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of ACLU. national office, she told Al Jazeera. “That progress has sparked the backlash we’re seeing now.”