A group of far-right individuals spreading lies and distortions about LGBTQ+ youth and adults convened on Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, a center of queer life in Florida.
Promotional materials for the event called it a rally against “child grooming” and “radicalized sexual curriculum,” according to Equality Florida, which denounced the gathering. Images on posters featured parents protecting a child from a bleeding rainbow. The rally was organized by Moms for Liberty — which works closely with Republican governor Ron DeSantis to demonize trans youth, trans-inclusive doctors, and drag queens — along with organizations like Gays Against Groomers, Florida Fathers for Freedom, and Moms for Liberty Miami. Newly elected, anti-LGBTQ+ Broward County School Board member Brenda Fam was also expected to attend.
Gays Against Groomers calls itself a nonprofit and elicits donations on its website. “We are a coalition of gays against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children,” the group claims on its site.
The idea that LGBTQ+ people are somehow “grooming” youth to become gay, bisexual, or transgender is a false trope that the far-right has clung to for years. In Florida, orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant made it her life's mission in the 1970s, demonizing gay people and overturning antidiscrimination bills.
The modern effort against queer youth is wielding enormous results in increasingly conservative Florida. The Florida Board of Medicine is working toward banning gender-affirming care for youth and to institute a waiting period for adults seeking to transition, while the state's new Parental Rights in Education bill — aka the “don't say gay” law — prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's public schools.
A counter-rally was planned for the Saturday event. Equality Florida expected youth organizers to attend, along with out elected officials, including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and State Senator Shevrin Jones. Equality Florida laid the blame for rallies like the one held Saturday squarely at the feet of DeSantis.
“Governor Ron Desantis' dangerous anti-LGBTQ politics and rhetoric have created an anti-LGBTQ hysteria we haven’t seen since the days of Anita Bryant and her “Save Our Children” campaign,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders.
“Governor DeSantis’ refusal to denounce Neo-Nazi, Proud Boys, and other extremists have emboldened them. During [Saturday]’s protest, an organizer of the hate rally aggressively taunted LGBTQ high school students calling out, ‘Where’s Jack!?’ in an effort to intimidate high school student Jack Petocz, an organizer of the youth-led counter protest. We are seeing a dangerous escalation in how these extremist groups have menaced their opponents including following families of trans kids home from school board meetings. Governor DeSantis and his political advisors have spent the last year demonizing Florida’s LGBTQ community, attacking parents, and denying them the right to get care for their children. He has made schools less safe and now that toxic rhetoric has spilled into the streets.”