To Sell Their ‘don’t Say Gay’ Bill, Florida Republicans Turn To A Capitol Rioter

As outcry over Florida’s contentious “Don’t Say Gay” bill grows, supporters of the soon-to-be law, which would restrict classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender, have turned to an unusual ally: a pro-Trump activist who took part in the Capitol riot. Several Florida officials will take part in a Twitter Space town hall held by Brandon Straka on Monday evening. Straka was sentenced to three years of probation in January after admitting to stealing a shield from a US Capitol Police officer in a plea agreement. The event, themed “Don’t Say ‘Don’t Say Gay,'” will include state Republican Reps. Joe Harding and John Snyder, many conservative LGBTQ pundits, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw, who has recently been under fire for her anti-LGTBQ statements.

“Every Republican is being maligned nationally by the left’s latest manufactured crisis. Why? Because they’re headed into brutal midterms,” Straka wrote in a Monday tweet promoting the 8:30 p.m. event. “This affects every Republican—so be there tonight!”

Some MPs and locals are now outraged by the fact that the latest attempt to promote the future bill features a far-right influencer and self-described “former liberal” who is best known for founding “#WalkAway,” an internet campaign encouraging liberal voters to abandon the Democratic Party.

“An insurrectionist joined by a group of MAGA trolls and GOP lawmakers is not an ‘honest discussion’—it’s unhinged, anti-LGBTQ propaganda,” Democratic state Rep. Carlos Smith, the state’s first LGBTQ lawmaker who has been a vocal critic of the bill, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This desperate attempt at damage control after the public turned against DeSantis on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ won’t work.”

“The disinformation campaign is in full swing,” Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani said on Twitter late Sunday. It’s the only thing the Governor’s team has to work with in order to minimize the blowback.” The gathering comes amid controversy over SB 1834, a bill approved last week that prohibits “classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity by school officials or third parties” in Florida schools from kindergarten to third grade. The bill, set to be approved by DeSantis this month, also prohibits any lessons “in a way that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

The measure will also oblige school districts to notify parents if their child’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” changes, as well as the school’s capacity to offer a safe and supportive learning environment for the student. Simply put, schools would be barred from “encouraging a student to keep” information from parents, causing activists to fear that young people would be forced to declare their sexual orientation or gender identity, even at their own risk.

LGBTQ supporters, including President Joe Biden, have condemned the bill for its “hateful” undertones and for giving parents unprecedented ability to sue schools for claimed violations. At least a dozen schools have staged walkouts in protest since it was passed. It has also prompted other states, such as Georgia, to consider enacting similar legislation, which would only exacerbate the plight of already disenfranchised groups.

Brandon Wolf, a victim of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting and an activist with Equality Florida, told The Daily Beast that the law is “a step in the right direction.” “is based on the hateful premise that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, pose a threat to children and that our community must be erased in order to curb the number of people who feel comfortable being themselves.” “This bill is a danger to LGBTQ students and adolescents in the state,” Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo added to The Daily Beast. “And none of the topics in the bill are even taught in those grades. There is no example of any teacher or any class where this has happened.”

Taddeo, a gubernatorial contender, said the town hall on Monday night “doesn’t surprise” her because it not only mimics DeSantis’ political rhetoric, but it might also be used to please his base in preparation for a “possible presidential bid.” (On Monday, DeSantis’ press secretary told The Daily Beast that the governor is “running for re-election, not for president.”)

“It’s very clear that the governor has a press secretary there for a reason. The more outrage they can bring, the better he does in the polls,” Taddeo said. “This bill is a nightmare—but I’m not surprised at all that any of this is happening because this is all about his future political ambitions.”

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, has previously drawn criticism for posting highly insulting views about those who oppose the law, including a tweet implying that anyone who opposes it is “probably a groomer.” Pushaw also raised eyebrows in November after appearing to sell an antisemitic conspiracy theory, as previously reported by The Daily Beast. When questioned, she then retracted her comments, claiming that it is everyone else who is fueling conspiracy ideas.

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw wrote in a March 4 tweet. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8-year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

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Straka’s “perspective on the parental rights bill as a gay conservative (and that of many other gay conservatives) has been entirely overlooked by the mainstream media narrative,” Pushaw told The Daily Beast, defending her decision to attend Monday night’s event and its host. “I don’t believe people should be shunned from public life indefinitely because of their worst mistake, which in Brandon’s case was a misdemeanor for standing on the Capitol steps for 8 minutes,” she added.

In reaction to Smith’s charges, Straka posted a Monday Twitter thread in which he stated he was “not an insurrectionist” for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor related to the Capitol riot. Pushaw said she wasn’t sure if DeSantis was aware of her participation in Monday’s event because “it’s not something I’m doing during business hours.” “I’m just going to talk about the media narrative on the bill, the types of loaded questions our office got, and how the corporate media used incorrect framing from a progressive activist group to represent the measure,” she continued. However, for other Florida lawmakers, such as Taddeo, the fact that GOP members who backed the bill are now endorsing it with Straka and other conservative LGBTQ pundits is “the most eye-opening about the state of affairs in the state.”

“It seems like some legislators are only passing bills to be in the Governor’s good graces,” Taddeo observed. Reps. Joe Harding and John Snyder, both Republicans, did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

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