Florida bill shows how good policy makes for good politics

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on March 31, 2022.

Should children in kindergarten through third grade receive lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity? After a bizarre national debate, the state of Florida says no. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, said in a statement, “Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

Despite the obvious reasonableness of the proposal, the bill faced intense opposition. White House spokeswoman Jenn Psaki referred to the legislation as “discriminatory,” “a form of bullying,” and “horrific.” Disney came out in full-throated opposition. Even the Hollywood brain trust got in on the action when the opening monologue at the Oscars mocked the bill.

Often overlooked in the controversy was the fact that most Americans find the bill to be quite reasonable. While only one Democrat voted in favor of the legislation, Democratic voters in Florida were much more supportive. Fifty-two percent of Democratic parents in Florida said no when they were asked, “Should students in kindergarten through 3rd Grade be taught about sexual orientation in the classroom by their teachers?”

The fact that parents don’t want Big Brother taking control of their children’s education should not be news to left-wing political interests. Less than five months ago, Republican underdog Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe while running on a parental rights platform in the Virginia governor’s race.

The divide over teaching kindergartners about gender identity is not a difference between Democrats and Republicans but between parents who demand to be in control of their children’s exposure to such issues and “experts” who believe they should be in control of other people’s children.

This debate also illustrates just how quickly the sexual revolutionaries have been advancing in the culture. A mere seven years ago, same-sex marriage was still illegal in most states. During the debates over that issue, any suggestion that efforts to legalize same-sex marriage were part of a larger conspiracy to teach kindergartners about homosexuality would have been roundly ridiculed as homophobic fearmongering. We were told all they wanted was equality, the right to love and be loved. But today, we hear that teaching kindergartners about homosexuality is a requirement of equality.

Moreover, the same crowd that told us for decades the Ten Commandments are unacceptable religious indoctrination now says the books She’s My Dad! and Gender Queer are simply part of a well-rounded education. But the evidence continues to mount that America disagrees.

Those on the political left are not only becoming detached from Middle America, they are also losing their influence over politicians they once controlled. In recent years, progressive interests have used threats and intimidation to accomplish virtually all of their political goals, even in red states.

In some cases, they “persuaded” lawmakers not to pass good laws. For example, in 2016, Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia vetoed religious freedom laws under threats of economic boycotts. In other cases, they convince politicians to repeal good laws that had already passed. In 2015, as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence repealed a religious freedom law. Two years later, the state of North Carolina repealed legislation protecting women’s privacy.

GOP lawmakers could not pull off these same acts of cowardice today without swift criticism from their base. We saw this recently in the Utah legislature overriding a veto from its moderate Republican governor who had taken the wrong side in a debate over protecting women’s sports.

In each case, the LGBTQ playbook was the same. The legacy media would misrepresent what the bill did and allies in big business would threaten economic harm unless their demands were met. Time after time, it worked.

As recently as 2021, South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a bill protecting women’s sports in response to pressure from the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce. However, after severe backlash, she signed a bill protecting women’s and girls’ sports this year.

Given this history, those on the left had every right to believe they would win again. After all, they ran the same play they had been running for most of a decade, but it didn’t work this time. Not only did DeSantis not succumb to their pressure, but he wore their scorn with pride. Upon signing the Parental Rights in Education bill, he referred to opposition from Disney and the Oscars as a “badge of honor.” As he should. He understands instinctively what the left is incapable of understanding.

Many on the left are standing, indignantly, asking, “Why shouldn’t we be allowed to talk to kindergartners about sexual orientation?” Meanwhile, most of America is wondering why they think parents would want them to. We have reached a moment where good policy also makes good politics. That could be very bad news for Democrats in upcoming elections, but it is very good news for America’s parents.