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LGBTQ youth under attack in Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis putting political ambitions first

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Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) (Photo by jctabb via Bigstock)

I remember the feeling of isolation everywhere I went. I remember the sense of despair when butterflies exploded in my stomach after my crush passed by me in the hallway. I remember the terror that a conversation around the dinner table might expose me for who I was. Being a queer young person meant being perpetually weighed down by the secret I was carrying and tortured by the internalized fear that something about me was broken. No space felt safe enough to be in authentically, every moment of every day was spent clinging to a carefully constructed mask designed to shield me from the prying eyes of the world, and when I finally collapsed onto my pillow at night, I often screamed into the pages of my journal wondering in hurried scribbles why I had been punished with this curse. Home wasn’t a safe space. Church wasn’t a safe space. The hallways between classes weren’t safe spaces. It was only once I had ducked into a familiar classroom and slipped into my seat near the front of the room that I could finally exhale and let go. A classroom— a teacher — were my refuge. Shelter. A place to belong. A classroom — a teacher — saved my life.

That wasn’t just the reality of a younger version of myself, it is the world that LGBTQ young people face every day. For many, affirming classrooms are their only lifelines; safe havens where the things that make them unique are first celebrated and they learn to see themselves not as a lonely outlier, but as an irreplaceable part of a rich, vibrant society. Those safe spaces give LGBTQ youth a chance to thrive — and they’re under attack in Florida right now.

I’ll fill you in on the worst kept secret in our state. Governor Ron DeSantis desperately wants to be elected president in 2024. And he understands that to do that, he must outwrestle another Florida resident for the adoration of the most extreme segment of his party’s base: Donald Trump. That jockeying for political power has led to a legislative agenda being championed by the governor and fast tracked by his allies in the legislature that is designed to whip up right-wing fervor by banning books, muzzling teachers, censoring classroom conversations, replacing curriculum with propaganda and giving the state government license to police us in every aspect of our lives.

But while the bills being proposed in Tallahassee were birthed from a cynical lust for power, they threaten to usher in a terrifying new reality in Florida. The Stop WOKE Act (HB 7) would censor honest conversations about this country’s history of slavery, racism, and injustice. It would upend diversity, equity, inclusion and even sexual harassment trainings in the workplace, seeking to preserve the “comfort” of some over the lived experiences of others. A 15-week abortion ban (HB 5) would insert the state government into doctor’s offices and clinics across the state, putting the prying eyes of the legislature over people’s shoulders while they make personal decisions about their own bodies. And the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557) would ban conversations about LGBTQ people in schools across Florida, effectively erasing our community from classrooms and curbing efforts to create more inclusive school environments.

These bills serve their intended purpose. They turn schools, workplaces, and doctor’s offices into political battlegrounds and serve up a buffet of culture war issues to fuel the far-right outrage machine. But beyond the sloppily written campaign rhetoric on each page, these dangerous pieces of legislation will have real impacts on real people. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill erases LGBTQ parents, making their presence on Career Day or in a show-and-tell project a potential legal liability. It terrorizes LGBTQ educators, forcing them to consider whether being themselves in the workplace might invoke a lawsuit.

And it isolates LGBTQ young people, reinforcing the bigoted notion that their existence is something to be ashamed of. Rainbow “safe place” stickers will be peeled off. Pride month displays will be stuffed into trash cans. In their effort to avoid being sued by an outraged parent, cash-strapped schools will be forced to shut down conversations and put a stop to the work of making schools safe for every child. And the impact of that chilling effect on LGBTQ inclusion will rest squarely on the shoulders of society’s most vulnerable.

Those who most need our affirmation and support have once again fallen into the crosshairs of a governor and legislative leaders determined to score political points at any cost. LGBTQ young people suffer higher rates of depression, anxiety, and are four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide before graduating high school. And nearly 40 percent of transgender Americans reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives. This crisis is fueled by the social isolation, family rejection, bullying and discrimination that is all too familiar to LGBTQ people. And its solutions must be rooted in affirming people and creating safe spaces for them to feel a sense of belonging, not further stigmatizing and shoving them back into the closet. Simply put, efforts to legislate LGBTQ people out of society will have disastrous consequences on young people who are already fighting for their lives.

LGBTQ people are a necessary part of the fabric of society. Our historical contributions deserve to be recognized. Our families deserve to be celebrated. Our lives deserve to be valued. And schools should be a safe space for all young people, no matter who they are or how they identify.

As the next generation of LGBTQ young people looks on, we must send a clear message to them: You are perfect exactly as you are. And we will not allow the governor or his allies to use you as fodder for their runaway political ambitions. I remember the feeling of isolation everywhere I went. The sense of despair when butterflies exploded in my stomach after my crush passed by me in the hallway. The terror that a conversation around the dinner table might expose me for who I was. And I remember the safe spaces that saved my life. Those spaces are worth defending. And defending them from political assault is the task we are called to now.

Brandon J. Wolf is the press secretary for Equality Florida.

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ROSENSTEIN: Is D.C. prepared for World Pride? Not just yet

An incredible opportunity for the city to shine

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Pride parade and festival in D.C. were a tremendous success. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this at Capital Pride, and others, including the mayor’s office, to make it a success. Now it’s onward to the next event, WorldPride 2025.

From all accounts, WorldPride celebrations around the world have been amazing. From Tel Aviv, to Rome, to Sidney, millions have enjoyed them. It is an event awarded to a city by InterPride, the international Pride organization. In 2025, from May 23-June 8, it is D.C.’s turn to shine. The event was awarded to the Capital Pride Alliance. While I know the great people in D.C. can handle this event, I have real concerns over whether the city as a whole will be ready. It will take an incredible amount of work and coordination, to prepare for close to three million people who will descend on D.C. in less than a year.

Since I moved to D.C. in October 1978, it has been a place that supports the LGBTQ community. That was the year Marion Barry was first elected mayor. In early 1979, I attended a dinner, even though not yet out, of what was then called the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Barry spoke and thanked the leaders of the Club, and the “GLBT community,” that is what we were called then, for helping him win the mayoralty. Today the club is called the Stonewall Democratic Club. I quickly got involved in the civic life of D.C., and local politics. Over the years there were members of the community on the Council, including Jim Graham and David Catania. Today, Zachary Parker represents Ward 5. As an activist, I have always had positive interactions with the mayors and Council. 

Recently, the Washington Post had a column on how much the D.C. Council has placed in the budget for the LGBTQ community. It includes grants for housing, and for the new LGBTQ Community Center. It also has about $5 million for World Pride. It was sad to see some of the negative online comments, some asking why the money wasn’t being spent instead on the poor. Part of the problem is that it was a poorly written column. While talking about WorldPride as good for the economy of the city, it left out any detail, easy to calculate, on how good it will be. How much money will be spent in D.C. by the millions coming here for those two weeks. How much the city will add to its tax revenues. How much small businesses will make and how this benefits workers. This information would have helped people better understand the investment the city is making. I don’t think the budget investment is big enough. This is a giant undertaking, and I’m not sure there are enough people involved. This will be a citywide, multi-state event, because of our close-in suburbs. At least it should be. There should be planning for events in all eight wards of the city. Council members and community leaders in each ward, should be working on events, ensuring the businesses and residents in their wards feel a part of, and benefit from, the huge influx of tourists to our city. There will be concerts, dances, sporting events, and a Human Rights Conference. Potentially there could be an HIV/AIDS conference, as major research is going on in D.C. 

I question whether those planning for this event have had serious discussions with airlines, and global companies like Amazon, and FedEx, to involve them in funding and sponsoring events. Is there a committee working to involve all the embassies, in planning events beyond a float in the parade? They will all have attendees from their countries here. Like it or not, there will be issues with visas and passports, and people will need help solving their issues. Then there is the worldwide press operation. I can imagine that could be set up in the convention center, or other facility. If D.C. is to get the kind of long-term public relations promotion such an event should bring, organizing that is crucial. 

How is the planning group liaising with Congress? How are the couple of hundred members of the Equality Caucus involved? This is the time for them to show their support, while thousands of their own constituents will be visiting D.C. for the event. Maybe WorldPride is time to encourage another push to pass the Equality Act. If Democrats take the House, keep the Senate, and Biden is president, we could pass it. It’s important to bring together HRC, the Victory Fund, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trevor Project, Carr Center at Harvard, among others, to work on this and other issues.  Each will contribute what they can and each will have ideas. Have the LGBTQ staffing groups on the Hill been involved with WorldPride yet? Then has the Capital Pride Alliance reached out to all the LGBTQ groups in the federal agencies, or to the wealth of talent within the leadership of groups like Whitman-Walker, SMYAL, and the LGBTQ+ Center, as well as those in the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland? Everyone should be involved. 

It is important to find a way to ensure visitors from around the world have a way to easily access information about all the events that will take place during the two weeks of WorldPride, as they plan their trips. This information can be shared through all the embassies, and worldwide press. We know many events, and venues, will require tickets, and reservations. Any traveler knows, having this information well in advance, clearly helps make for a successful trip. The information shared could include information on potential add-on trips to Rehoboth Beach, and other venues.  

One of the things we cannot know, is who will be president of the United States at that time. If it is Joe Biden, we are fine. If, God forbid, it’s Donald Trump, that could be scary. How would that impact how federal agencies get involved, how about Homeland Security? All contingencies need to be prepared for. 

WorldPride will bring together people from across the country. Young people from San Francisco to rural Mississippi, places where being out is not yet so easy. We must showcase how being free to be who you are will make your life better. We need to showcase the best of the LGBTQ community, and show the world here in the United States, we are working to be truly equal and free. We need to involve all those who support us, and who we support. That includes the corporate community, police departments, and the military. We have fought long and hard to get their support, now is the time for us and them to be proud of it. 

We have an incredible opportunity for D.C., and the entire United States, to shine. I urge those doing the planning to involve as many people as you can. Reach out, and let each person, and each group, take an active role in this venture. WorldPride 2025 will be better if you do. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure

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What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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