Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has built a platform and rabid following, not by solving any kind of real issue but by targeting “wokeness,” a word that his General Counsel Ryan Newman defined as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
Frequently, Republicans use “wokeness” as a synonym for “being LGBTQ+” and especially for being transgender. As DeSantis’ power grows and he considers a presidential run, the United States is becoming a more and more terrifying place for trans people — even at Georgetown University, a place that touts its students as “people for others.”
DeSantis’ bigotry thrives because it’s not just limited to laws on a state or national level — even if his bills are struck down by a judge, they still sow the seeds of hate. They embolden other bigots because if a U.S. governor can be celebrated for his transphobia, then they can be too.
Unfortunately, those seeds of hate have found fertile soil at Georgetown — and we need to pull up the roots before it’s too late.
DeSantis’ policies have been harmful for the trans community in Florida. His “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which originally targeted elementary schools and was recently expanded to cover all students up to 12th grade, has heavily restricted discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in elementary school. His press secretary Christina Pushaw then called anyone who opposed the bill a “groomer.” After that, DeSantis banned gender-affirming care for trans youth, despite doctors and medical organizations calling these laws harmful to transgender children.
These laws are not just limited to Florida, though. Lawmakers introduced 155 anti-trans bills nationwide in 2022, and that trend has only continued in 2023. As of this moment, there are 359 active anti-trans bills in the United States. Transphobia is becoming a mainstream platform and a pillar of Republican strategy. We must stand up and stop these extremists. Otherwise, they will continue to persecute trans people.
Last year, Georgetown saw several acts of transphobia happen right on campus, such as the use of transphobic slurs after former Vice President Mike Pence’s 2022 visit to campus. The Georgetown University College Republicans (GUCR) have also publicly spoken out in favor of DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies at debates held on campus, such as at the 2022 first-year debate between GUCR and the Georgetown University College Democrats. There have been multiple cases of transphobic protesters on campus, including recently on April 19, when a man with a transphobic sign calling for the protection of children from gender ideology walked around Red Square and conversed with students. One of the most blatant was a speech by Riley Gaines, a former college athlete who has called a trans woman “a man with a fetish,” hosted by the modestly named Georgetown Network of enlightened Women (NeW).
GU Pride attempted to hold an event at the same time as Gaines’ speech, without mentioning her. The goal was to deny NeW the drama and controversy that it was seeking.
In response, members of the Georgetown chapter of NeW perceived our actions as intolerant, and later, photos obtained by the far-right site Campus Reform were posted online without consent from students. Fun fact, that was how I got forced out of the closet to my parents. Thanks, NeW.
The worst part of it all, though, isn’t seeing how many people are willing to parrot DeSantis’ bigotry. At this point, like many other queer people, I’m just used to that. The part that hurts is seeing how many students are willing to turn a blind eye to this behavior or even make excuses for it. Queer people have to live as if our very existence is a valid topic for debate. Open bigotry is a threat to us, but people who seek “moderacy” in the face of hate are an even greater threat.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about how the greatest challenge for the Civil Rights Movement was “the white moderate” — someone who was happy to nod along with the idea of equality but would balk at taking actual action.
King said, “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
King’s bewilderment is just as relevant today. I can accept that certain people, for whatever reason, will give in to hate. But it baffles me how so many people can acknowledge that what DeSantis is doing is wrong yet still refuse to take even the slightest action.
We absolutely need action at a university level. The housing process must become far more accessible to trans and nonbinary students, both in the language used and in the options that are on the table; the university must continue funding and supporting queer organizations and events; and the Student Health Center needs to offer nonbinary health care, not just provide “physicals for both men and women.”
And all students — regardless of gender or sexual orientation — should help fight for these policies.
At the end of the day, however, official policies are just words on paper. DeSantis’ true danger is the culture of hate that he is fostering — a culture that cannot be allowed to grow at Georgetown. We need to form our own culture, one in which the only thing not accepted on campus is bigotry.
If you see someone being harassed, stand up for them. If you see people endorsing views like those of DeSantis, shut them down. In the fight between hate and love, there can be no middle ground.
Students may not be able to stop DeSantis from spreading hate in Florida, but we can stop his hate from spreading here. You can’t get rid of a weed by tearing at what’s above the surface. You need to dig it up from the roots and destroy it.
Matt Shinnick is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences.