Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — a piece of legislation so weird and psychologically revealing it could be subplot in an unsubtle political sitcom, if it weren’t so overtly cruel to both children and the people trying to teach them.
The new law bans any classroom discussion of homosexuality and transgender issues for children up to the third grade (for older kids, the topics must meet the bill’s criteria of being “developmentally appropriate”). It requires schools to inform parents if their child accesses mental health services, and allows parents to sue school districts if they take issue with the curricula. Disney, one of the state’s biggest businesses, tried to stay out of it. But they eventually came out against the bill; the right wing is now obsessed with claiming the corporation is filled with pedophiles and groomers. Farbeit from me to defend Disney, but this is a state that elected Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The bill comes on the heels of a wave of anti-trans legislation in red states. According to NBC News, some 238 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed this year alone. In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a letter calling on both medical professionals and average citizens to report parents of trans kids to the Department of Family and Protective Services on the grounds that transition care is “child abuse.” And the Don’t Say Gay is already spawning replicas. Early Tuesday, Ohio Republicans introduced a copycat bill in the state House of Representatives.
One might think the radical trans-obsessed centrists of Twitter — Katie Herzog, Jesse Singal, and Andrew Sullivan, in particular — would welcome this wave of lawmaking. For the uninitiated: Sullivan and Singal are popular Substackers; Herzog occasionally writes for like-minded Substacks; and Herzog and Singal have a podcast together called “Blocked and Reported” (it has a Substack too). This trifecta loves to claim that legacy publications suffocate free speech and the expression of boldly unwoke views. Indeed, these fine minds have focused on lending legitimacy to the more extreme gender-critical arguments backing the bills now passing into law. A couple of them have even been cited in anti-trans briefs.
But there seems to have been a change of heart among them: over the past few days, they have been posting on Twitter about how the crusade to eradicate sexuality and gender conversations from public schools smacks of homophobia. You don’t say.
It’s all a little convoluted, but I’ll do my best to take you through it. The trigger for the Substackers was a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok, the admin of which seems to spend all his time trolling the Gen-Z app for videos of teachers talking about LGBTQ subjects. In one video, he finds a teacher who told his students that he is gay — an offense the admin thought should get him “fired on the spot.” Here’s what Sullivan, the former New Republic editor and Atlantic and New York writer, whom you might remember from such takes as “race scientists may have a point,” had to say about the video:
Herzog, who used to work at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, also weighed in:
Where does Singal, the former New York science editor who wrote a controversial Atlantic cover story about childhood transitions that parlayed a couple cherry-picked anecdotes into an argument that ‘just asks questions’ about transition care for minors, figure into this? He was busy fact-checking Libs of TikTok, an account devoted to unbiased presentation of information, on a video about schools installing litter-boxes for self-identified furries. But he did find time to call out the gay panic Floridians accidentally mixed with their trans panic:
This must be confusing for a squad so fiercely committed to moral clarity in the face of left authoritarianism. As their comrade in devil’s advocacy, Bari Weiss, once wrote in Commentary:
George Orwell said that “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” In an age of lies, telling the truth is high risk. It comes with a cost. But it is our moral obligation. It is our duty to resist the crowd in this age of mob thinking. It is our duty to think freely in an age of conformity. It is our duty to speak truth in an age of lies.
But even the Weiss crowd is having trouble speaking freely, or at least clearly. On Friday, Weiss’s wife, Nellie Bowles, wrote about the new law in her weekly round-up, TGIF. After citing Critical Race Theory -activist and known rational thinker Chris Rufo, Bowles concluded: “This thing is a witch’s brew of a culture war. It’s a mess.”
Update: In an email to Gawker after this post published, Singal asked us to clarify: “Hey guys — my article in The Atlantic doesn’t make “an argument against transition care.” I’m in favor of transition care, and I’m pretty explicit about this in the piece. The question is basically what the assessment process should look like for minors seeking puberty blockers or hormones. Can you correct that? Thanks. -Jesse.”
Update II: Singal emailed us again: “It’s obviously not enough for you guys to leave the false claim in the piece and then include my email at the bottom — you really just need to correct it. Come on, guys.” We have updated the relevant text.