Anti-Genderist Paranoia in the Sunny State

Alexios Iliadis (S0Se 2023)

1.    Introduction

On the 24th of February 2022 the now infamous Parental Rights in Education Act (HB 1557), commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, was voted for in the state of Florida, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on the 28th of March 2022 and came into effect on the 1st of July of that year (O’ Connor 2022). This law was expanded upon during April 2023 by the Florida Board of Education and it now encompasses all ages in primary and secondary education, with a bill affecting tertiary education being now in the works (Nietzel 2023 ; Williams 2023). As far as framing goes, HB 1557 was presented as a safeguard of parental decision rights in relation to their children’s upbringing and schooling, but as will soon become evident it is far more encompassing (Johnson n.d.).

This new law, however, must be seen in its cultural context, as another development in the wider attempt at rollbacks of LGBTQI+ rights in the US (Gabbatt, Pilkington, and Stein 2023). There is no denying that significant progress has been made in the last years regarding the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights, but at the same time a significant backlash can be observed. From bathroom access “controversies” to restricting children from competing in the sports teams they feel more comfortable in to banning gender-affirming medical care, conservative lawmakers have frequently tried to fight back against the traction won by the LGBTQI+ community (Mulhivill 2023) . While a holistic overview of all rollbacks is very much in order if one is to better understand how their cumulative impact will intersect and synergize, this text will highlight a single instance of such rollbacks, which will most likely create lasting negative effects on a new generation of Floridian children, teenagers and their respective communities, with Florida acting as a “pioneer” and with many other states like Texas and Montana following suit (Mulhivill 2023).

2.    Anti-Genderist Dogmatism

Nevertheless, it is still imperative to at least shortly review the general ideological dimension motivating this moral panic, before one delves into the content and possible impact of HB 1557. What one must first notice when summarizing this ideological movement is that it is a rather heterogeneous one, manifesting itself in a different manner in different societies. This is not to say that there are not some persistent similarities. Anti-genderism largely refers to a transnational movement, mainly consisting of but not limited to, right-wing and far right populists, conservatives, and Christian fundamentalists (Kováts 2017). Anti-genderism has also fostered in TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism) discourse since 2016 (Pearce, Erikainen, and Vincent 2020).

What does Anti-Genderism evangelize? In a nutshell, adherents of the anti-genderist ideology stand against what they conceive of as an overproportionate concession of rights to the LGBTQI+ community such as the equal standing of same-sex marriage, while at the same time positioning themselves against the proliferation of government gender related policies (e.g. race or sex based quota in job admissions), gender mainstreaming, gender studies, etc., in short against all that they perceive as promoting “gender ideology” (Wittenius 2023; Kováts 2017). Anti-genderist arguments are primarily derived from a combination of essentialist and theological (as the movement was greatly influenced by the Catholic church’s position on gender) arguments with regards to what gender actually “is” (Wittenius 2023). Anti-genderists generally subscribe to a binary and essentialist conception of gender. They conceive of gender, sexual orientation and reproduction as static, “natural” and unchangeable biological characteristics that one has from their birth. Gender is thus equated with biological sex in this ideological framework, an argument that has become antiquated by modern scientific discourse, as it is now largely accepted that gender resembles more a fluid spectrum than a static either/or (Tharp, n.d.).

The theological part of anti-genderism derives its argumentation mainly from the complementarian worldview, which is found in the dominant monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Islam and Christianity. What complementarianism basically evangelizes is that God has made men and women ontologically equal but functionally different (Kuhar and Paternotte 2017). Men and women (and only men and women) are in this ideological framework destined for different responsibilities and functions, with men enjoying a higher place in social hierarchy, being designated as leaders and breadwinners, and with women being designated for auxiliary roles, meant to support and “complement” their male counterparts. Sexual activity is viewed in functional terms and is therefore acceptable only with the explicit goal of reproduction (Kuhar and Paternotte 2017).

The end effect of this ideology is to view anyone who does not neatly conform to the traditional conception of gender, sexual orientation and reproduction as abnormal, blasphemous and unnatural. Another prominent feature of this worldview is to paint the LGBTQI+ and feminist struggle as part of an elite conspiracy to limit freedom of speech and to impose foreign and unacceptable norms and values on a given population (Kuhar and Paternotte 2017).

3.    HB 1557’s Components

Having reviewed the main ideological trend lurking behind LGBTQI+ rollbacks around the world in general and in the US in particular, one can now better understand the broader context and motivation behind the introduction of the law and its subsequent implementation. Before we can move on to the impact of HB 1557 though, it is only logical to first unpack what the law specifically requires and how some of its more ambiguous parts have caused confusion and anxiety.

First and foremost, HB 1557 originally prohibited classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in all classrooms from kindergarten to the third grade, with the newest expansion ranging from kindergarten to the sixth grade (Williams 2023). Courtesy of its vagueness, a lot of teachers are experiencing a constant anxiety that even the mere mention of LGBTQI+ issues in classroom could land them in serious professional trouble. For example, teachers from Orlando have expressed fear that they will not be able to even discuss the brutal hate crime/mass shooting that took place in the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016 and sent shockwaves across the world (Craig 2022).

In addition, since classroom discussion of LGBTQI+ issues, gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited, selective book bans are a subsequent dangerous by-product of HB 1557, as books containing any content that can be perceived as being related to the above-mentioned subject can now, after the filing of a corresponding parental grievance, be removed from school libraries and curriculum. It is important to note here that critical race theory, or rather what the state regards as CRT, has also been dealt a similar blow (Moolten 2023).  From the sixth grade up to the 12th grade, reproductive health instruction is required to “be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”, with many voicing concerns over the ambiguity of the term “age-appropriate”, as it can obviously be quite freely interpreted (Williams 2023).

Echoing anti-genderist arguments, the bill furthermore demands that schools teach “that sex is determined by biology and reproductive function at birth; that biological males impregnate biological females by fertilizing the female egg with male sperm; that the female then gestates the offspring; and that these reproductive roles are binary, stable, and unchangeable.” (Singh 2023). 

Parents are furthermore to be notified about what healthcare services the school provides (for example psychological support for children experiencing gender dysphoria), while simultaneously reserving the right to deny these services to their children. While at first glance this may seem quite logical, one should keep in mind that with this new provision a child feeling gender dysphoria that may not have the support or even empathy of its family regarding its experience, now has basically nowhere to turn to for help, since the school can no longer act as a shelter for them (Williams 2023). Finally, the bill also explicitly targets the use of personal pronouns within the school grounds, prohibiting both teachers and students from using other pronouns than those assigned to them at birth (Geggis 2023).

4.    HB 1557’s Fallout

While the law has not been that long in effect, some studies and interviews regarding the law´s impact have already been conducted, painting a bleak picture for its possible consequences to the mental state and social standing of the LGBTQI+ community in Florida, as it is by the Governor’s own admission that he wants to wage war against anything “woke” (Kane and Davis 2023).

4.a)   Mental Health and Psychosomatic Implications

The law’s most deleterious effect that is well recorded in the related literature, can by no means be anything other than the excessive mental, emotional and in many cases psychosomatic burden placed on the LGBTQI+ community. It is already established that LGBTQI+ populations in general and youth in particular experience greater rates of mental duress, such as depression, anxiety and stress compared to the broader population, with laws such as HB 1557 acting as additional and amplifying stressors (Kline et al. 2022). Moreover, increased probability of self-harm and suicide among populations with a significant mental load is common with the implication for LGBTQI+ youth being clear (Madireddy 2020).

Furthermore, as instruction and discussion are effectively silenced and made taboo, fear of social rejection and anxiety on the side of students who either are LGBTQI+ themselves or have LGBTQI+ parents will be greatly exacerbated. Simultaneously, from the teacher’s standpoint, a violation of the HB 1557 law in any form may very well lead to a job loss, thereby creating a multilateral environment and culture of exclusion (Kline et al. 2022).

Stress, fear and anxiety experienced in a continuous and systematic manner are not without their very real bodily consequences, meaning that HB 1557 can negatively contribute to the development of chronic health problems for the Floridian LGBTQI+ community, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and overexposure to cortisol, which in its turn is related to a heightened probability of strokes and high blood pressure. Moreover, stress alleviation as an answer to the above-mentioned stressors, often comes in the form of tobacco and substance use, which in the case of the latter can exacerbate ongoing health crises, such as the fentanyl crisis and in the case of both be associated with a multitude of possible health complications such as pulmonary diseases (Perez 2022).  

The intersectional implications of HB 1557 are also diligently accounted for, with LGBTQI+ people of colour being in an even more precarious quagmire regarding their mental well-being, having to deal with broader systematic and diachronic oppression, in a society which is to this day heavily stratified with regards to race (Kline et al. 2022).

4.b)   Societal Standing

As hinted to above, HB 1557 will introduce a new wave of detrimental risks to the Floridian LGBTQI+ community with regards to its social standing. As already explained, LGBTQI+ parents or parents of LGBTQ+ youth have commented on the growing fear and insecurity they are experiencing. Many, who have access to such resources, are either considering leaving the state or sending their children to private schools thus also highlighting the classist implications of the law, as poorer families can seldom exercise such options (Goldberg 2023).

Moreover, state sponsored projects of LGBTQI+ exclusion, which this law almost explicitly is, can provide an encouraging basis for aggravated instances of teasing, bullying and in end effect hate crime violence (Hartman 2023). If the state basically states that being LGBTQI+ is abnormal and taboo, it is probable that younger children will internalize this and then, as children and teens most often do, externalize this in an aggressive manner. There is also a hidden synergy here, as LGBTQI+ children in need of psychological, emotional and even material support, whether with regards to experiencing bullying within school grounds or to being dismissed by their less tolerable families can now no longer turn to school authorities for help, in effect being left to fend for themselves (Hartman 2023).

More perniciously, HB 1557 sets an extreme legal precedent, as it lays a venomous foundation for sanctioned discrimination of specific groups, a fact, which should be most alarming to everyone and not simply the Floridian LGBTQI+ community, as spillover effects are to be seriously considered. Furthermore, many LGBTQI+ parents have already posed their concerns that they will in many cases be turned to second class citizens, being effectively framed as child groomers, with many fearing that the state may eventually even take away their children (Luterman 2022).

All this without being able to properly account for the invisible and not yet graspable long-term effects such a law may create.

5.    What now?

It is no overstatement that the LGBTQI+ community in the US and around the globe finds itself in a critical juncture, a most crucial crossroads, which in many ways will determine if all the forward momentum that was so painstakingly, gradually and through constant struggle won over the years will reverse course. While the situation is most definitely dire, not all is yet lost and the future is hardly written in stone.

The criticism drawn was more than widespread and the backlash immense. A series of lawsuits from LGBTQI+ advocacy groups was filed against the act while many professional organizations and labour unions condemned the act, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT 2022; Brown 2022). Quite importantly, many businesses also heavily criticised the act, most notably Disney, which has its mailing address in Florida and practically owns Florida’s most famous landmark, namely Disneyland, in its own special commercial district (Blair 2022).

At the same time anti genderist paranoia has indeed seeped deeper into the collective consciousness of Florida. In Florida HB 1557 inspired a wave of related law extensions, further negatively impacting the local LGBTQI+ community, while also leading the prelude to more sinister and impactful legal acts, such as the banning of gender affirming care for minors (Williams 2023). Alas, as mentioned above, this trend is not constrained to Florida but has found roots in all the US. As many as 15 states have introduced similar acts to HB 1557 in their respective state legislatures while a Republican did so on a federal level in the House of Representatives (Migdon and Simon 2022; Chmura 2022). While the ending of this saga is still elusive, if history is to illuminate any of its insights, it is that one shall not simply resign to their fate but rage against the dying of the light. From the Stonewall riots to the Gay Liberation March to even the establishment of the equal standing of same-sex marriage in many states, the LGBTQI+ community achieved what it achieved through solidarity and collective action.

6.    Literature

AFT. 2022. ‘AFT Condemns Signing of “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in Florida’. 2022. American Federation of Teachers. 28 March 2022.

 Blair, Elizabeth. 2022. ‘After Protests, Disney CEO Speaks out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill’. NPR, 10 March 2022.

Brown, Danielle J. 2022. ‘LGBTQ Students, Parents, Advocacy Group Sue Florida over “Don’t Say Gay” Law’. Louisiana Illuminator (blog). 31 March 2022.

Chmura, Brooke. 2022. ‘US House Bill Proposes Prohibiting Use of Federal Funds for “sexual-Oriented” Materials for Children – JURIST – News’. Accessed 23 September 2023.

Craig, Tim. 2022. ‘As Fla. Lawmakers Push to Limit LGBTQ Discussions in Schools, Orlando Vows to Keep Teaching Its History’. Washington Post, 17 February 2022.

Gabbatt, Adam, Ed Pilkington, and Chris Stein. 2023. ‘US Supreme Court Strikes Blow against LGBTQ+ Rights with Colorado Ruling’. The Guardian, 30 June 2023, sec. Law.

Geggis, Anne. 2023. ‘Gov. DeSantis Approves Restricting Pronoun Use in Schools, Expanding Book Challenge Powers’. Florida Politics – Campaigns & Elections. Lobbying & Government. (blog). 17 May 2023.

Goldberg, A.E. 2023. Impact of HB 1557 (Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill) on LGBTQ+ Parents in Florida. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.

Hartman, Christina. 2023. ‘Don’t Say Gay: How Laws Are Tools for Hate, Discrimination, and Violence’.

Johnson, Meredith n.d. ‚The Dangerous Consequences of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill on LGBTQ+ Youth in Florida’.  Accessed 23 September 2023.

Kane, Eileen, and Rochelle Anne Davis. 2023. ‘DeSantis’ “war on Woke” Looks a Lot like Attempts by Other Countries to Deny and Rewrite History’. The Conversation. 24 July 2023.

Kline, Nolan S., Stacey B. Griner, Malinee Neelamegam, Nathaniel J. Webb, Joél Junior Morales, and Scott D. Rhodes. 2022. ‘Responding to “Don’t Say Gay” Laws in the US: Research Priorities and Considerations for Health Equity’. Sexuality Research & Social Policy 19 (4): 1397–1402. .

Kováts, Eszter. 2017. ‘The Emergence of Powerful Anti-Gender Movements in Europe and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy’. In Gender and Far Right Politics in Europe, edited by Michaela Köttig, Renate Bitzan, and Andrea Petö, 175–89. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Kuhar, Roman and David Paternotte. 2017. „Introduction“. Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe:    Mobilizing against Equality. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-78660-001-1:

Luterman, Sarah. 2022. ‘LGBTQ+ Parents Fear Their Children Will Have to Hide Their Families at School under Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill’. PBS NewsHour. 28 March 2022.

Madireddy, Samskruthi, Sahithi Madireddy. 2020. Strategies for schools to prevent psychosocial stress, stigma, and suicidality risks among LGBTQ+ students. American Journal of Educational Research8(9), 659–667.

Migdon, Brooke and Madeleine Simon. 2022. ‘It’s Not Just Florida. 15 Other ‘Don’t Say Gay’-Style Bills Are Cropping up Nationwide’. Text. The Hill (blog). 19 February 2022.

Moolten, Shira. 2023. ‘Book Bans Surged across the US in 2023. Florida Was the Blueprint’. The Oakland Press (blog). 22 September 2023.

Mulvihill, Geoff. 2023. ‘Conflict over Transgender Rights Simmers across the US’. 2023. AP News. 28 April 2023.

Nietzel, Michael T. 2023. ‘New Bill Latest Assault In Florida’s War On Higher Education’. Forbes. Accessed 31 August 2023.

O‘ Connor, Lydia. 2022. ‘Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill Into Law’. HuffPost. 28 March 2022.

Pearce, Ruth, Sonja Erikainen, and Ben Vincent. 2020. ‘TERF Wars: An Introduction’. The Sociological Review 68 (4): 677–98. .

Perez, M.G. 2022. ‘Saving LGBTQ Lives from Drug Overdoses and Death’. KPBS Public Media. 12 July 2022.

Singh, Simrin. 2023. ‘Florida Bill Would Ban Elementary School Students from Learning about Menstruation‘ CBS News. 21 March 2023.

Tharp, Angela. n.d. ‘Gender Spectrum Theory’.

Williams, Tom. 2023. ‚DeSantis Signs “Don’t Say Gay” Expansion and Gender-Affirming Care Ban’. NBC News. 17 May 2023.

Wittenius, Marie. 2022. ‘The Transnational Anti-Gender Movement in Europe | Gunda-Werner-Institut | Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung’.  Accessed 4 September 2023.

Quelle: Alexios Iliadis, Anti-Genderist Paranoia in the Sunny State, in: Blog ABV Gender- und Diversitykompetenz FU Berlin, 27.12.2023,