How many children must be sacrificed on the altar of Ron DeSantis’s presidential ambitions?
The Republican governor of Florida, like members of his party across the country, is targeting transgender people to raise his national profile, enacting regulations and pushing laws that make it harder — even illegal — for them to get gender-affirming health care, to exist safely in public, even to be spoken of in schools.
DeSantis’s GOP is using trans youth in particular as a culture-war cudgel, whipping up voter support with ever more draconian measures designed to drive them into the shadows, where they’re more likely to become depressed and hurt themselves.
Rather than risk that, some families are making the gut-wrenching decision to flee.
“We’re being forced to leave, because of a political game that is being played, with our children as the pawns,” said Ruth, an attorney in South Florida whose 13-year-old daughter is transgender.
She and her daughter are planning to relocate to the Boston area at the end of this school year. Ruth’s husband and her older daughter, 15, will remain in Florida. Two other families in the attorney’s small circle are making the same decision, she said.
“I’m appalled that people who claim to be for parents’ rights are forcing me to leave my home so that I can take care of my kid in the way I know is the only right way to take care of her,” she said.
Ruth asked to be identified only by her middle name, because she is worried Florida will target those who provide gender-affirming care for minors, a possibility that has grown increasingly likely as she has watched the Republicans’ sick obsession with trans people escalate over the last couple of years. She and her husband have been in constant conversation about what their line in the sand would be. On a recent day, they agreed their daughter was “living half a life here,” Ruth said, and that it wasn’t fair to keep her in a state where “her identity is so reviled.”
“How can you raise a kid in an environment that says ‘You don’t count, and we are actively trying to shut you down?,’” she said.
Ruth knows how lucky her family is compared to others in the same predicament. Hers has the means to relocate, and both she and her husband work remotely so they can switch off between Massachusetts and Florida during the school year. Ruth also has relatives here, with whom she and her daughter will live. But her loving family will be separated, and it will be painful.
Meanwhile, those without the resources to get their trans children out of Florida, or with obligations that keep them there, have no choice but to fight for, or forgo, the care that medical professionals agree will help them.
Ruth understands nowhere is truly safe, that the anti-trans hysteria that has taken over Florida and Texas and Tennessee bursts through here at times too: Witness the Nazis harassing drag queens in Taunton and the death threats against caregivers at Boston Childrens’ Hospital. But at least the state isn’t endorsing the hate, as it is in Florida.
“Massachusetts is as safe and welcoming and open a place as any we can find in this country,” Ruth said.
It’s as if DeSantis and other aspiring autocrats want to drive trans people from their states. But that understates their ambition here. They want to impose their ideology on the entire country. The governor’s national platform is essentially “Make America Florida.”
It would be a mistake to see what is happening to Ruth’s family as a Florida thing, or a Texas thing; it is a threat to us all. A hyper-politicized Supreme Court, a legislative majority, and a presidential election could undo all of the progress we’ve made, even here in Massachusetts. The only sure way to prevent that is to mobilize for fundamental rights in the next election, and in every one after it, until the dinosaurs trying to drag us back become irrelevant.
This goes beyond restricting rights for transgender people. If the DeSantis playbook prevails, “there are very few people who are going to be left unscathed at the end of this,” Ruth said. “What kind of society are we choosing to live in?”
It can’t be DeSantis’s Florida.