(Key West, FL) In late March, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed off on legislation that many contend silences and effectively erases LGBTQ students in the Sunshine state. The directive, which will become law next month, continues to raise the ire and anger of millions of state residents. Many contend the move discourages self-identity and effectively bans the acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

The catchphrase “Don’t Say, Gay” refers to a soon-to-be law that bars the teaching or classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Florida is the first state to implement such a direct and sweeping law that boldly challenges the rights of the LGBTQ community. “Down here in Key West, it’s tough for us to admit that we’re associated as part of Florida when legislation like this get passed,” said Jeffrey Smead, a manager at Island House, an exclusive and private resort in Key West. Smead is the General manager and his husband, James is the Resort manager. The two oversee and manage the day-to day operations of the resort. Smead said the new law by the governor and his cronies is a significant setback for the LGBTQ community.

“This decision goes against everything that Key West stands for,” he said. Smead referred to the “One Human Family” motto the city has espoused for decades. “Imagine being a child who has same sex parents, and not being allowed to reference your own family as valid in your formative years” he said. “It’s just shameful.”

Jeffrey Smead (left) and James Braun (right), managers at Island House in Key West. (Facebook photo)

Additionally, the law raises speculation that similar legislation could become law across the country, including in New Jersey. Several high-profile politicians laud the edict, speculating that a similar decree may be in the future in New Jersey.

For example, former Republican governor hopeful and businessman Jack Ciattarelli has been an outspoken critic of current and previous efforts that support, encourages, or educate others about the LGBTQ lifestyle—especially in schools. He voted against same-sex marriage and voted to ban conversion therapy for minors. “We’re not teaching sodomy in sixth grade,” he said. After being sharply denounced by many, Ciattarelli quickly rolled back the statement. He said he referred to the explicit and mature content taught to children. “All schools should be promoting diversity, inclusivity and tolerance, and respect for others,” he said. Ciattarelli narrowly lost the 2021 state gubernatorial race to incumbent Phil Murphy and has hinted at making another run for the state’s top spot in four years.

The Holmes-White family, Oscar (left) Kristian (center) and Kris (right)–Contributed photo

Oscar Holmes IV, associate dean of undergraduate programs and an associate professor of management at Rutgers University School of Business-Camden, said the “Don’t Say Gay” mandate is an abomination and attacks the principles of democracy. Holmes and his husband Kris White are the parents of a son. “At only three years old, our son is proud of his family and knows that in his family, he has two dads.” Holmes added that his son is “too young to know that proponents of the law want to invalidate our family.”

Additionally, some gay rights activists in the Garden State liken the term to similar inflammatory rhetoric frequently spewed by racists and homophobes. “Bigoted politicians {like DeSantis} use the catchphrase to gather support from their homophobic base to get re-elected,” said Frank Mahood, a gay rights activist in Hopewell, NJ. Mahood has been married to his husband Chet since 2013. He added, “Reinforcing ignorance and hate in impressionable young minds, violates the freedom of expression and speech of student, teacher and parents.” 

DeSantis, who is being touted as the Republican nominee for a 2024 run for President, is also under fire for a series of legislative moves in recent months regarding health and medical issues, including signing an extreme abortion ban after 15 weeks, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. He also publicly denounced people for wearing masks during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law becomes effective July 1st.

In related news, New Jersey repealed a law that targets and discriminates against people living with HIV/AIDS. Earlier this year, Gov. Murphy repealed an outdated rule that targeted HIV-positive people that engaged in sex without telling their partners about their HIV status. The law also makes it illegal for someone with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to engage in sex without informing their partner. Sponsors of the bill include Senators Joe Vitale and M. Teresa Ruiz. They each lauded the governor for mandating the historic legislation in a press release. “The criminal code is meant to punish actions that harm others, not discriminate against people living with a chronic health condition,” Ruiz said.

Glenn Townes

I'm an award winning journalist based in Edison, NJ. My work has been featured in dozens of publications including, Black Enterprise magazine; ESSENCE magazine and Real Health magazine. I am also a featured...

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