The campaign by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis against LGBTQ people has escalated over the last week, roping in the state’s health and law enforcement officials. On Thursday, DeSantis removed State Attorney Andrew Warren from office, citing Warren’s pledge not to use the resources of his office to criminalize gender-affirming health care for minors or abortion. The next day, the state Board of Medicine voted to consider banning gender-affirming health care for trans kids, after the state Department of Health proposed prohibitions on both medical and social transition for minors, with the approval of DeSantis. By purging a dissenting state prosecutor and marshaling public health bodies to his purpose in just the last week, DeSantis is growing his reach—not just as a national right-wing figure, but as a political leader who commands obedience across yet more state agencies. His anti-LGBTQ agenda is now moving into a new heightened state of criminalization, one which also demonstrates how DeSantis wields power.
Andrew Warren’s offense, as recounted by DeSantis at a press conference Thursday while flanked by law enforcement officers, was choosing not to enforce the law against providing gender-affirming care or abortion. “None of those cases have been brought to us,” Warren said in response. “We’re not anticipating those cases being brought to us.” Warren has said he will fight being removed from office, accusing DeSantis of “trying to overturn the results of a fair and free election”—since 2016, Warren has twice been elected state attorney in Hillsborough County—and calling DeSantis’s actions illegal.
The Board of Medicine, meanwhile, was taking up a set of guidelines ostensibly on trans health care which in fact, as Sam Greenspan at Vice reported, “All 12 citations Florida presents against the use of gender-affirming care are either distorted or from a source with clear anti-trans bias.” Outdated research on hormones and puberty blockers was used to argue against their use while other studies were generalized to argue against the researchers’ own conclusions. At the Board of Medicine hearing in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, activists rallied and staged a die-in outside, their bodies covered by trans pride flags, holding headstones to represent those whose lives would be endangered by the health care ban. Inside, after the board cut public comment early by one hour in order to rush a vote, a trans woman interrupted to chastise the board. “I’m a mom. I’m a parent. I’m a provider. You do not do this to children,” she said—only to be walked out by police. After voting to move ahead despite this opposition, board members were escorted out the back of the hotel where the meeting was held and away from press.
DeSantis’s threats of criminalization and manipulation of public health had been building. Earlier in July, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration moved to adopt a new policy barring the use of Medicaid for gender-affirming care for minors and adults. That same month, Florida’s state commissioner of education Manny Diaz Jr. called President Biden’s Title IX guidelines, which protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, an “attempt to impose sexual ideology” allegedly jeopardizing the “health, safety, and welfare of Florida students.” Diaz warned schools that they “risk violating Florida law” if they followed these guidelines. Now the state Board of Medicine has stepped up.
Also in July, the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a “public nuisance” complaint against a LGBTQ venue in Miami; DeSantis said this investigation was the result of a video of a drag brunch held there, allegedly attended by minors, that was later shared by Libs of TikTok, paralleling a campaign against an LGBTQ community venue in Dallas in June.
DeSantis’s attacks on LGBTQ people through the public education system—his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, now in effect—had already gained him national notoriety. He has been compared by Vox and The Washington Post to Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, whose attacks on “gender ideology” scapegoat LGBTQ people, fueling his broader far right agenda. While DeSantis was using his state power to do the same last week, Orbán was giving a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, proclaiming, “The mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our kids alone. Full stop! End of discussion!” to a huge round of applause.
As with Orbán, DeSantis’s anti-LGBTQ stance is sometimes framed as merely being in service to the more central goal of amassing a right-wing base. Yet it’s clear: he has already put LGBTQ people in the crosshairs of members of that base—in political debate, in public spaces, and in private life. Marginalizing and criminalizing people for being queer or trans is not just fueling DeSantis’s agenda; these acts are essential to it, to the kind of world he promises his base, one that comes into closer focus each day. At least some of his supporters see it plainly: on July 23, they carried “DeSantis Country” flags alongside swastika flags outside the Turning Point USA conference in Tampa, where the governor spoke the day before. To date, he has not condemned them.