Governor Ron DeSantis wants to make sure that students are never exposed to anything in school that acknowledges the existence of people who are gay. Maybe he thinks that if their existence is never mentioned, they will disappear or go back into the closet.

The Miami-Dade School Board got his message. Last year the board approved a measure to recognize LGBTQ History Month. It was not controversial. Recently the board voted overwhelmingly to cancel that decision, in deference to state law proclaiming that gay people should not be acknowledged.

Last year, when the Miami-Dade School Board overwhelmingly supported a measure to recognize October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) History Month, some board members said their decision was rooted in another step toward civil rights for all people.

At the time, Vice Chair Steve Gallon III said he was “obligated to support the item because my DNA compels me to support inclusion. It compels me to support equity, it compels me to support equality.” 

The nine-member board passed the proposal in a 7-1 vote, with Board Member Christa Fraga dissenting and Board Member Lubby Navarro absent.

This year, though, during a marathon and contentious meeting Wednesday, the board voted 8-1 to reject recognizing October as LGBTQ month. Only Board Member Lucia Baez-Geller supported the observance; she put forth the proposal, both last year and this year.

This time, Gallon said, his personal beliefs must be divorced from his obligation to follow the law, despite his “love for all humanity, my commitment to inclusivity and access to representation.”

He expressed concern Baez-Geller’s measure “did not fully comport with the law,” referencing Florida’s new Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill. In March, Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law, prohibiting instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and could potentially restrict such instruction for older kids.

Gallon and seven other board members voted no on the October observance and no on allowing the district to explore teaching two landmark Supreme Court decisions impacting the LGBTQ community to 12th-grade students. To some, the board’s vote on Wednesday underscores the chilling effect the law is having on school boards in Florida.

“Nearly every board member opposing the resolution voiced their belief that the proclamation violated the Don’t Say LGBTQ Law, further evidence of the sweeping censorship of this law,” said a news release sent by Equality Florida, a civil rights organization that works with Florida’s LGBTQ community.

School board attorney Walter Harvey told the board Wednesday that he believed the measure was in compliance with the state law because it did not have changes to curriculum or instruction.

Board members, however, believed otherwise. 

Law’s potential chilling effect

Throughout the hours-long meeting Wednesday, Baez-Geller tried to debunk what she called “disinformation” being promulgated by people at the podium.

For one, she said, the item included an opt-out for students on the Supreme Court lessons in addition to language that required any recognition be pursuant to state law.

Nevertheless, speaker after speaker opposed to the measure said the recognition would indoctrinate students; in some cases, speakers likened the resolution to child abuse. 

“What I think is happening, (following) the removal of members of Broward County and the language and rhetoric from the right, it’s a scary time for allies … and people who would have voted in favor of this in the past may now be thinking twice,” she told the Herald Thursday. “The law is vague on purpose and as we saw, the law is meant to have a chilling effect, and I believe the law has been successful in scaring people away from topics that are potentially controversial or that could bring a lawsuit.”

Last month, DeSantis removed four elected Broward County School Board members following a grand jury report that cited the members for “incompetent management” and “neglect of duty.” He replaced the four members with four men — the four he suspended were all women — who had ties to him or to the Republican Party.

At the end of July, opponents to the law sued DeSantis, the Florida Board of Education and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. in federal court in Tallahassee, challenging the law’s constitutionality. The case is pending.

A packed house, polarized crowd

Most of the speakers Wednesday spoke against the measure. 

Patricia Moore was greeted with cheers from the packed auditorium after she said schools “are not here to indoctrinate with the LGBTQ agenda. We should not expose our children to this in school.”

Michael Rajner, however, was among those who spoke in favor of the measure, telling the board he knows what it’s like to have parents who told him not to tell others he was gay, including his siblings. 

“Our struggle is real. Our struggle is history,” Rajner told the board members.

Now, if DeSantis should be elected President in 2024, he could tell cable and network stations not to broadcast any programs with gay characters, and he could censor the Internet.

He is a bigot and a bully.