Watch Out Ron DeSantis... Gays Have Long Memories + Racist Truckers In Ottawa
What's the gayest state? That depends how you measure it. In terms of the percentage of population who identify as members pf the LGBTQ community, it would be Massachusetts (4.84%). But in terms of the most gay people living in the state:
California (4.69%)- 1,859,000
Texas (3.50%)- 1,053,000
New York (4.75%)- 913,000
Florida (3.99%)- 886,000
Illinois (4.04%)- 506,000
If you're totally bigoted and don't want to be anywhere near gay people, your best bet would be to move to one of the socially backward red states, like Idaho (2.5%) or North Dakota (2.6%). Wyoming has the fewest gay residents, just 18,000. But Florida? Nah... Florida's been a kind of gay mecca for decades and the vibrant gay lifestyle has drawn queer kids from all over the South-- all over the country and world-- for a long, long time. And, on the seemier side of the Florida gay community, there's the story about how a young Marco Rubio-- expelled from college, his uncle's drug running business shuttered, down on his luck-- turned to gay prostitution to tide him over until he realized he could make easier money selling his ass to conservative special interests as a Republican than peddling his ass to old men in public parks for $20.
Since then, Rubio has never shown any empathy for the LGBTQ community. So don't expect him to save lend a hand when his party is attacking gays and lesbians... as the Florida GOP is now. In her Vanity Fair column yesterday, Bess Levin noted right-wing extremist, opportunist and would-be presidential candidate Ron DeSantis' ugly pivot towards homophobia. "A funny thing about Republicans," she wrote, "is that despite claiming to be the party of 'personal freedom,' in the last year alone, they have tried to prevent Americans from: reading certain books, teaching about systemic racism, making decisions about their own bodies, and, in the case of some groups, voting in democratic elections. A lot of people would look at this evidence and conclude that Republicans are massive hypocrites-- and they would be right! So while deeply depressing, it’s in no way surprising that Florida conservatives want to ban talk of gender identity and sexual orientation in the state’s primary school classrooms, and that Florida’s governor, who seems to have his eye on the White House in 2024, has signaled his support for the initiative."
GOP bigots call it "parental rights." Floridians call their new legislation the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, which would require the implementation of "procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children." The bill also encourages parents to sue school districts if they think their "fundamental right" as parents has been violated.
Jacksonville City Council candidate, Joshua Hicks, put out a video on the topic today. When I asked him for a comment on the bill, he told me that it's irresponsible and "threatens the health and safety of tens of thousands of youth across Florida who are already more at risk for bullying and discrimination. We should be creating a safe learning environment for them, not making it worse. As a gay man, running to serve openly on the Jacksonville City Council, it is impossible for me to fathom how such a heartless proposal can weave it’s way through our state government with ease. But to those this bill would impact, just know this: We love you. It does get better. And while it may take time, we will defeat the bigotry being promoted by ego-driven politicians, like Ron DeSantis, once and for all."
Chrstine Olivo is running for Congress in the southeast corner of the state. She told me people "are watching our state dismantle decades of progress right before our eyes. Florida state legislators have attacked our voting rights, our right to protest, reproductive rights and now this! As an educator myself, I encounter students every day that have questions about lifestyle that no one else is willing to answer. Stop shaming and dehumanizing the LGBTQIA+ community and stop trying to force Florida to adjust to your personal comfort level."
Seizing on the “parental rights” line trotted out by DeSantis and other Republicans, South Florida resident Jennifer Soloman, who has LGBTQ+ children, commented to NBC News: “Parental rights? Whose parental rights? Only parental rights if you’re raising a child according to DeSantis? DeSantis tries to paint this picture that every family is this 1950s mom and dad with two kids and a cat and dog. That is not what Florida looks like; that is not what the country looks like.” While Soloman told NBC that she is not personally worried about the impact of the bill on her children, because they live in a part of the state that is “relatively accepting of LGBTQ people,” she fears for those living in other communities. “There could be a family just like mine that is going to have to go back in the closet,” she said. “They’re going to have to tell their child, ‘I’m sorry, you can dress the way you want to at home, but you have no protections at school, and so you can’t be your authentic self all of the time.’ That’s very damaging to a child.”
There's quite a reactionary push going on, spawned by social media, and it isn't just in states with bad leadership, like Florida. Have you been reading about the conspiracy theory truckers in Canada being infected with severe Trumpism? I was an adjunct professor at McGill in Montreal. In theory, I still am. I haven't been there since COVID. But this week, I read an editorial in the campus daily newspaper-- White Supremacists at the "Freedom Convoy" Aren’t Just a Few Bad Apples. "The Freedom Convoy," wrote the editors, "has become a site of far-right violence, as large numbers of protestors with 'no connection to the trucking industry' have joined protesting truckers in proliferating racist and xenophobic rhetoric, often tied to investment in QAnon and other conspiracy organizations. Dangerous online presences have been found for some organizers, with multiple instances of involvement in white nationalist movements and racist organizations."
There have been no American politician more active in encouraging the "Freedom Convoy" to come to America than Ron DeSantis. The tragedy the Ottawa has been living through, is what DeSantis is trying to stir up in Washington, DC. "As the convoy has been ongoing (as of February 4), activity at Ottawa’s downtown core has become increasingly unsafe, with threats of physical violence, obstruction to routes for emergency vehicles, and disruptions to general life for Ottawa’s citizens. In spite of this, the convoy has not been cleared. In allowing the Freedom Convoy to continue its rally downtown, the municipal government endangers the well-being of local Ottawans and demonstrates an active complacency in confronting white supremacy and alt-right nationalism. Comments from politicians and police forces in the city have been vague, failing to fully acknowledge the extent of the threat of white supremacy."
The municipal and federal goverment has been slow to condemn the Freedom Convoy, despite members having taken to the streets of Ottawa with Trump apparel, Nazi salutes, swastikas, and confederate flags. Ottawa’s Mayor, Jim Watson, argued that “in any large crowd, you’re always going to have a few people that are stupid,” and claimed that “the crowd has been generally peaceful; they’ve been disruptive in the sense that a number of our businesses had to close down and people are stuck in their homes because they live in the central core.”
While some original supporters of the Freedom Convoy claimed that alt-right truckers made up a minority of protestors, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network argues that “from day one […] the organizers themselves [were] part of the far-right movement,” noting that “they have […] been involved in far-right movements and have made Islamophobic comments in the past.” Notably, Prime Minister Trudeau described the alt-right faction of the convoy as a “fringe minority” holding “unacceptable views,” rhetoric that many protesters have been using to justify their presence in the country’s capital. Dave Steenburg, one of the Freedom Convoy’s lead organizers, posts regular TikTok videos associating with far-right anti-immigrant groups, including groups identified by the Canada Border Services Agency to be a risk for violent extremism. Executive Director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network points out that “this isn’t a few bad apples […] every single group we monitor is involved in leading or participating in this convoy.”
To claim that the only disruptions are closed businesses and people struggling to travel throughout Ottawa ignores the harm the convoy inflicts upon local communities. Local hospital staff have been asked to use an alternative road route to get to work and to carry staff ID to show police on their journey-- a dangerous requirement that forces a large group of individuals to interact with the police, putting marginalized workers’ safety at further risk. Ambulances have been pelted with rocks by Freedom Convoy protesters, and racial slurs yelled at paramedics while they worked.
The violence in the streets of Ottawa has forced many essential services to close their doors to the public, including community care facilities like the Centretown Community Health Centre, which provides services for crisis support, homeless and in transition individuals, and mental health and addiction, amongst others. With the Freedom Convoy blocking road access, many users of these essential services have been left with no immediate support and an uncertainty about when the services will be available again. The inaction of the federal and municipal governments have enabled the Freedom Convoy protestors to jeopardize the wellbeing of individuals reliant on these services. The continued failure of the Canadian government to protect individuals who rely on these programs highlights their clear reluctance to condemn alt-right violence in the country.
Shepherds of Good Hope, a soup kitchen and shelter in downtown Ottawa that serves three meals per day to individuals in need, provides specialized shelter programs and permanent homes, reported an “incredibly difficult weekend for [their] downtown shelter and soup kitchen programs.” Volunteers and staff faced physical barriers to get to their workplace, with many staff members unable to make it through the gridlocked traffic in the city. The shelter stated that “trucks were parked in our ambulance drop off zone for nearly 12 hours,” with “the incessant honking and noise from trucks [causing] significant anxiety and distress to our staff and shelter residents.” The soup kitchen reported that all homeless shelters in the downtown area had to make emergency contingency plans to support their residents. Staff and volunteers also experienced harassment from members of the Freedom Convoy. When a member of the shelter community was assaulted by Freedom Convoy protestors, a security guard was threatened and called racial slurs. Freedom Convoy protestors also demanded meals from Shepherds of Good Hope, taking resources from individuals who use the service regularly and out of necessity. The presence of the Freedom Convoy not only takes away material resources from those in need, but also poses an ever-present threat of white supremacist violence to those who utilize these services.
Freedom Convoy protestors have not only disrupted life in downtown Ottawa; they are causing active harm to communities, businesses, and essential workers throughout the region-- specifically to racialized people and those with disabilities. In opposition to a vaccine mandate that applies to all cross-border travelers, those supporting the Freedom Convoy have chosen to jeopardize the well-being of others, causing emotional and physical harm to thousands of individuals throughout the city. At a federal and municipal level, the Canadian government is choosing not to act, neglecting the safety of racialized people throughout the region-- as such, the government is complicit in the ongoing trauma faced by marginalized populations in Ottawa.
Back to former gay prostitute Marco Rubio for a moment-- or at least over to the progressive candidate challenging his reelection bid this year, Alan Grayson. Grayson told me this morning that "It’s interesting how people who couldn’t care less how offensive they are to others nevertheless act like they’re made out of eggshells when others say honest things to them that they consider offensive. Apparently, the GOP thinks that it has a monopoly on indignation. I guess that the next logical step is for them to ban all relevant subjects, and K-12 can be 7 hours of trigonometry each day. It’s a sin of the times."
Adam Christensen is being urged by progressives across Florida to run for the open Agricultural Commissioner seat. I caught up with him this morning and I don't know if he's made up his mind on that, but I do know he's made up his mind on the "Don't Say Gay" bill. "I’m tired of these ridiculous, impractical bills passing through the legislature that can’t actually be implemented. The lawsuits alone will cripple our school boards and systems. Teachers will be more focused on censoring themselves, than building the next generation of workforce and leaders. How is it going to be enforced? How much will it cost taxpayers to microphone and monitor every teacher in the state? We all know that our kids are going to learn about things that make them uncomfortable. Better they learn about them in a loving atmosphere where they can ask questions and get true answers than somewhere else."