Protesters Occupy Ron DeSantis’ Office in Opposition to Anti-Diversity Bills
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claims his state is “#1 in educational freedom” but in the past year the state has leveled an intense crackdown on the principles of free speech Republicans claim to venerate.
On Wednesday, the Florida legislature passed a series of bills that will defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, restrict professors from discussing issues of race and ethnicity, and prohibit schools from compelling teachers and staff from using a student’s preferred gender pronouns. DeSantis is expected to add his signature to the bills in the coming days.
In response, dozens of protesters from the human rights group Dream Defenders, occupied DeSantis’ Tallahassee office for a sit-in. “DeSantis likes to meet with his donors, the people who voted with him, his little pals, but he seems not to want to face the people who don’t actually like him,” one protester told the Tallahassee Democrat. “If he won’t face us, he shouldn’t be the governor.”
After hours in the Capitol, the protesters were arrested and forcibly removed from the premises, which could earn them a trespassing charge and a one-year ban from the Capitol grounds.
In a 27-12 party-line vote in Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate, they approved a massive expansion of the controversial “Dont Say Gay” bill, which was signed into law last year. The existing bill placed widespread restriction on discussions regarding issues of sexual and gender identity in K-12 classrooms.
The new law requires that all public schools treat it as a matter of policy that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.” Teachers would not be allowed to tell their students their own preferred gender pronouns, nor can teachers inquire about students’ pronoun preferences.
Additionally, the bill raises the hard ban on classroom instruction on issues of sexuality and gender identity from the third grade up to the eighth grade.
A separate bill, also passed on Wednesday, bars Florida’s public universities and colleges from using their funding to “promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities that espouse diversity, equity, or inclusion [DEI] or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.”
The wording of the bill has raised concerns that it will be weaponized against students and schools to prohibit academic courses, affinity groups, clubs, sororities and fraternities, or student unions associated with minority communities. An amendment proposed by State Rep. Angie Nixon to provide protections to some of these groups was struck down by House Republicans.
The bill would also create a governor-appointed board empowered to hire and fire university and college staff, including those with tenure.
In March, The American Historical Association wrote a public letter outlining their concerns regarding the legislation.
“We express horror (not our usual ‘concern’) at the assumptions that lie at the heart of this bill and its blatant and frontal attack on principles of academic freedom and shared governance central to higher education in the United States,” the letter states. “This is not only about Florida. It is about the heart and soul of public higher education in the United States and about the role of history, historians, and historical thinking in the lives of the next generation of Americans.”