Is Florida a preview of America’s dystopian future?

OPINION: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a man with presidential ambitions, and he’s getting there by targeting trans kids

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is a man of loud and transparent ambitions. He has refused to say that he won’t run for president in 2024. He has campaigned for Republican candidates in other states, the way you’d expect a presidential frontrunner to do. Some polls show him as the only Republican candidate with an edge over Donald Trump, should the former president decide to run for reelection. 

Ron DeSantis has also made his name on the national stage almost exclusively through attacking trans and queer people—particularly, though not exclusively, trans children. Looking at Florida in 2022 is a way to see what the United States would likely become if Ron DeSantis were president. The answer, evidently, is that the persecution of queer and trans people would increasingly be a central strategy for rallying the Republican base, the fuel on which American conservatism runs. 

Read more about Florida from Xtra

• Florida is now targeting teachers and trans students following passage of “Don’t Say Gay” law
• A Florida school district is censoring books that promote LGBTQ2S+ equality
• Florida governor suspends prosecutor who refused to punish trans youth for seeking gender-affirming care

The reader is likely familiar with at least some of the policies advanced under DeSantis’s administration: “Don’t Say Gay,” for example, which effectively bans teachers from mentioning queer and trans identities in the classroom. Florida is also one of many states that has voted to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans people under 18; most recently, on October 28, Florida’s Board of Medicine voted to formally begin drafting the rule that would set this ban into effect. They would be the first such board in the nation to do so. 

The “hearing” that preceded this vote was, more or less, a show trial. Trans people and advocates reported that they were not allowed to speak, whereas one of the “medical experts” called to argue against gender-affirming care was a dentist. The ban, if and when it goes into effect, will be sweeping. It doesn’t just forbid minors from starting their medical transitions. It also revokes healthcare coverage for teens who have already been cleared for transition and provided puberty blockers and/or hormones by their doctors. 

Which is to say: Florida is establishing a precedent for forcibly stripping healthcare from trans people, whether or not their doctors have concluded that transition is the best course of treatment. This precedent will not just affect minors. Across the nation, the proposed legal age for transition care has been steadily creeping upward since these bans were first introduced: anti-trans forces began by focusing on “children,” then aimed to ban gender-affirming healthcare for patients under 18 and now, in Missouri, advocates propose restricting it for everyone under age 25. This makes it extremely likely that, at some point in the future, trans adults will be forcibly detransitioned.

That is not the end of the bad news. Here’s where I utter two words you really never want to see together: “trans registry.”

Multiple sources report that the Florida Medical Board recommended the idea of creating a registry of all trans minors in the state, presumably to make sure none of them are receiving any forbidden medical treatments. 

We know what happens when the state starts creating lists of a despised minority population and keeping them under surveillance, and it is horrible. It’s so horrible, in fact, that the reasonable instinct is to doubt it will come to pass—it’s typically best to assume that you’re not actually living through a Second World War documentary and/or X-Men movie until circumstances prove otherwise. 

But “Don’t Say Gay” sounded unimaginable at first too. Moral panics over trans youth were merely annoying until they started dictating policy. In 2012, no reasonable liberal would have predicted the re-mainstreaming of 1980s-style homophobia that casts queer teachers as “groomers,” nor did anyone expect the return of pre-Stonewall legislation that bans people from “crossdressing” in public. But in 2022, all of those things are happening. The attacks have escalated so quickly that it’s hard to set reasonable expectations. Nothing sounds too bad to be true. 

More opinion from Xtra

• After nearly two decades of queer activism, this municipal candidate had to face down vile homophobic accusations recently
• Kit Connor’s forced coming out and the problems of queer fandom
• Alberta’s teachers registry is outing trans teachers

Trans and queer people are not alone in this. Bodily autonomy and privacy are under attack on multiple fronts. Sex workers have been on digital lockdown since at least the passage of FOSTA-SESTA. People who can get pregnant are already deleting their period tracker apps, for fear the data might be used to criminalize them if they abort or miscarry.

The attacks on trans healthcare are just one facet of the broader conservative attempt to mandate traditional patriarchal family arrangements, and odds are, they’ll serve as precedent for other healthcare bans—starting, as advocate Gillian Branstetter predicts, with birth control. 

The worst is possible, and the worst is likely, and it has been Florida, under DeSantis, which is our most reliable bellwether for what “the worst” looks like. If we want to know what there is to fear, Florida is where we ought to be looking. DeSantis is a man with ambitions, and what he has learned is that attacking queer and trans people serves him—it elevates his profile, rallies his base and allows him to harness the rising tide of fascism and patriarchal backlash. Like Trump before him, he may ride that current all the way to the Oval Office. 

You have to know the future to fight the future, and right now, Ron DeSantis is it. Our enemy is clearly visible; his plan is already in motion. We have about two years, maybe less, to come up with a counter-strategy. If we don’t, not only will trans people in Florida continue to suffer; we will all suffer, knowing that we saw what was coming, and still didn’t stop it in time. 

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Jude Ellison S. Doyle is a journalist, opinion writer, and the author of two books, including Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy and the Fear of Female Power (Melville House, 2019) and Trainwreck: The Women We Love To Hate, Mock and Fear... and Why (Melville House, 2016). They live in upstate New York.

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