The LGBTQ Lobby Sues Florida

April 1, National Public Radio carries the headline: “LGBTQ groups sue Florida over the so-called ’Don’t Say Gay’ law.” At least NPR has enough integrity left to let readers in on the secret that the title of the law is not “Don’t Say Gay,” misinformation that saw a lot of activists and allies obnoxiously repeating “Gay!” on social media and wherever they could find a camera to peer into. On March 28, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 1557, its actual title “Parental Rights in Education,” affirming parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. The tag “Don’t Say Gay” was designed to obscure the real title of the bill.

HB 1557 prohibits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for children kindergarten through third grade, as well as other instruction that is not age appropriate for students. Recognizing that the family is the basic unit of the social order, the law also requires school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding the emotional, mental, or physical health, or well-being of their children. With global corporate power at its back, most notably Disney, which has banished the words “boys” and “girls” and “gentlemen” and “ladies” from its scripts, the LGBTQ lobby has moved to stop the implementation of the law.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education, aka the Don’t Say Gay bill, flanked by elementary school students during a news conference on Monday, March 28, 2022, at Classical Preparatory school in Shady Hills. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Whatever your view on matters of gender identity and sexual orientation (my own, consistent with my left-libertarian beliefs, is to tolerate wide diversity in these domains), the challenge filed in federal court in Tallahassee on behalf of Equality Florida and Family Equality (EFFE) gets the free speech right profoundly wrong. This is crucial, because it is upon this right that the lobby seek redress. In fact, the free speech right actually works against their argument.

The freedom to speak and be heard, as well as to associate with those with whom one wishes, where it does not exclude others from exercising their right to the same, are indeed key pieces of First Amendment protections. Central to fully realizing this right, and without oppressing others, is freedom from compelled speech, as well as freedom from being forced to be part of associations and programs based on doctrines not established in the law. As a free person, I do not have to receive instruction in Islam. Nor do I have to participate in its rituals. I have only to tolerate it where it does not interfere with my freedoms. In other words, public school instruction is to educate children not indoctrinate them.

Children in public schools are captive audiences and hence especially vulnerable to indoctrination. I recognize the desire among progressives to politicize public schools, to develop and implement curricula and pedagogies that advance their political agenda, but this is entirely inappropriate in our public institutions (and should be in most of our private ones as well). The same is true with instruction in critical race theory, an openly political-ideological project to change the way individuals think about race relations and justice in America (see The Fight Against Compelled Speech). As earlier alluded to, there is no substantive difference between instruction in gender theory or critical race theory and religious education.

I am aware of the idea that getting children when they’re young, years five through eight being most crucial, is the most effective way of installing assumptions in them that make thought control easier to accomplish later in the life. The philosophy here is what is sometimes referred to as automatism, its goal to make a way of thinking habitual and reflexive. It works the same way as the civilizing process of imparting manners to the unwashed. However, whereas manners are innocuous customs (interaction rituals) that facilitate social life in a myriad of ways, political ideologies have a very different function. Political ideologies are particularly problematic when they are administered by unelected officials in government agencies.

As I recount in my 2011 blog Junior Achievement—Relevant Bits of the Letter I Wrote the Principal, I opposed the Junior Achievement program “Our Community” being taught to elementary school students. I removed my seven-year-old from class for that period when I failed to stop its implementation. I hesitated taking this action because I did not want him to feel ostracized. But what was I supposed to do? Have him sit there while propagandists from the business class teach him how to maximize profits by rationalizing production and why that was a good thing? I made the best decision I could. But I should never have been put in that position.

I want to be crystal clear about this matter. I don’t care what the ideology in question is. I’m a Marxist (what I wrote a moment ago likely gave that away). If there was curriculum in second grade instructing students about the materialist conception of history, I would oppose it as vigorously as I opposed the presence of corporate propaganda in my son’s classroom. This is not a matter of where you stand on a particular issue. It’s a matter of civil rights.

The EFFE lawsuit states, “This effort to control young minds through state censorship—and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality—is a grave abuse of power.” First off, there is nothing demeaning about not talking to children about gender identity and sexual orientation. There are all sorts of things teachers don’t discuss with children at that age. That line is there to short-circuit reason by appealing to emotion. More substantively, indeed what is really at issue here, the effort to influence young minds through state indoctrination is the actual grave abuse of power. Any instruction concerning sexuality should be reserved for later in life and circumscribed by public health concerns—not the conception of public health corrupted by political ideology (e.g. “systemic racism as a public health concern”), but public health in terms of reproductive awareness add hygiene. (I don’t want anybody getting the idea that I think that teaching safe sex to teenagers is a bad idea. Quite the contrary.)

The EFFE lawsuit goes on to say, “The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that LGBTQ people and their families are at home in our constitutional order.” This is true. It is also true that heterosexual people and their families are at home in our constitutional order. That constitutional order protects all children from compelled speech apart from gender identity and sexual orientation. The US Bill of Rights is for all people.

“The State of Florida has no right to declare them outcasts, or to treat their allies as outlaws, by punishing schools where someone dares to affirm their identity and dignity,” the EFFE lawsuit continues. I have reviewed the law. But maybe I missed something in that review. I would appreciate somebody showing me where in the law the state of Florida is declaring anybody outcasts or outlaws. But I don’t think I missed anything. In fact, I know I didn’t. What is clear in this legal action is an objection to a law asserting two fundamental rights: the right of children to be freed from ideological indoctrination and the right of parents to raise their children in a manner they believe is best for them.

As for this claim that HB 1557 transgresses the freedom of speech of administrators and teachers, public school teachers, university professors excepted, do not enjoy academic freedom. Public school teachers are hired to deliver a curriculum. Administrators are hired to organize and manage teachers for that task. Teachers work for the community they falsely presume the right to shape. It is the parents who are ultimately in charge of their children’s education. I have been a stalwart supporter of public education all my life. However, developments over the last several decades have shaken that support. Frankly, had I to do it all over again, I would likely home school my children. It pains me to say this, as I believe very much in the ideal of public education. But it has become corrupted by political agendas.

Administrators, teachers, and their unions will deny that they are pushing any agenda. They appear oblivious to the character of their practices. You will note that they are almost uniformly progressives. Why does it seem not to occur to progressives that pushing particular theories of gender and race instruction in public schools is indoctrination? Why would administrators and teachers even consider circumventing the wishes of parents by, for example, hiding curricula (the purchase parents gained by being able to see curricula and pedagogy under COVID-19 lockdown conditions is what opened up all of this) or keeping from parents information concerning their children’s emotional, mental, or physical health, or well-being? Understanding this is the deeper matter. The corporate state, the extended state apparatus that includes the culture industry and educational institutions, is trying to get our children.

One must understand that progressives are not liberals. They are neither democrats nor republicans (note the small “d” and “r”). If they were any of these things they would insist public schools impart knowledge that prepares children for a successful life in pursuit of self-actualization with an awareness of their civic responsibilities as citizens of a free republic. They would insist on instruction in logic, math, and science, as well as mastery over the written word, all the while insisting that it is not the role of educators in public institutions to shape community life, but to deliver a service that empowers individuals to develop an independent mind and shape their communities on their terms.

Progressivism is the subjectivity of the professional-managerial strata—the middle class. It is the conscious and practical expression of the corporate state, of government bureaucracy, of the technocratic order that serves the power elite. The same power that drives Junior Achievement into schools is the same power that drives gender theory and critical race theory into that institution. It is not in the interests of the powerful for children to develop independent minds that possess the capacity to analyze situations objectively and in terms of individual situations and class interests. The corporate state desires the indoctrination of children to more completely create and integrate docile bodies with the control structures that make the lives of the proles serve the ends of the party. There is no room in this scheme for civil liberties. Hence the First Amendment can be bent out of shape with apparent oblivion.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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