LGBTQ Agenda: Florida college DEI programs shut down as school year starts

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 15, 2023
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The University of North Florida's LGBTQ Center has closed due to a new state law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Photo: Courtesy SlamStox
The University of North Florida's LGBTQ Center has closed due to a new state law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Photo: Courtesy SlamStox

A national nonprofit that works for safer college campuses for queer students is condemning the "dismantling and closure" of LGBTQ support offices and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida's public colleges and universities.

Campus Pride recently sent out a news release criticizing legislative efforts in the Sunshine State as 2024 Republican presidential candidate and Governor Ron DeSantis continues to implement hard-right education policies. For LGBTQ college students, that includes ending public funding for campus offices that offer support for them.

One law, known as Senate Bill 226, was signed earlier this year by DeSantis and went into effect July 1. It prohibits state and federal funding going toward "programs or campus activities that advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism."

"The repercussions of Florida's SB 266 are creating a climate of fear for students and young people who rely on LGBTQ+ and other inclusion-focused centers — and that fear is apparent, from students, faculty, staff, all the way up through campus administrators to college presidents," stated Campus Pride Founder, CEO, and Executive Director Shane Mendez Windmeyer in a news release last month. "It is deeply disappointing that Florida college presidents have not banded together and found another way to keep these centers open, by securing alternative funding or rallying together in opposition to the law's implementation."

Effectively pulling the rug out from DEI programs, as they are known, the law has already led to the dissolution of LGBTQ, interfaith, intercultural, and women's centers at the University of North Florida, among others.

Manny Velásquez-Paredes, the director of the University of North Florida's LGBTQ Center, stated that it has become the victim of "political culture wars."

"It is truly a sad experience, when our political leaders use people as pawns in their political games," Velásquez-Paredes stated. "Are they afraid of the LGBTQ+ community, or are they afraid of our voting power? Because these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community only make us stronger, we are taking names and will be voting against all of those who introduced an anti-LGBTQ bill, or voted to pass one."

Though, as Mendez Windmeyer stated, "There may be Florida campuses that have found ways to continue in quieter, more obscure ways to support their students, their LGBTQ+ programs, and other diversity work."

When asked how Campus Pride is affected, Mendez Windmeyer told the Bay Area Reporter that the organization's outreach on campuses is hindered by LGBTQ centers closing.

"Campus Pride works to support LGBTQ+ students," Mendez Windmeyer said. "We work with a number of colleges in the state of Florida so that impact is felt by the young adults on the campuses, especially with the new law on July 1. There's other state schools looking to do the same thing [as University of North Florida], so the direct impact is the harm to safety and being welcoming and that these student supports will no longer be funded, at least by state monies."

Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida, also spoke about the harm the new law is having.

"Governor DeSantis and his legislative allies have done damage to Florida's education system and the reputation of our state's colleges and universities that will far outlast their political careers," Wolf stated. "DEI programs are designed to ensure campuses are inclusive of and welcoming to all students and staff — and they set students up to thrive in a world made stronger by its diversity.

"Yet, the DeSantis regime, in their war on academic freedom, has defunded these crucial programs," Wolf added. "Florida's economy will be robbed of top tier talent, students will be robbed of a world class educational experience, and campuses will be less safe because of this nakedly political attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion."

In a related matter, DeSantis has also taken aggressive steps to replace the board of trustees at New College of Florida, a liberal arts school in Sarasota that is part of the state university system. Earlier this year he appointed six new trustees — all conservatives — to the New College board with a mandate to dramatically change the school's mission and culture, as the Tampa Bay Times reported. Last week the paper reported that the board has now taken steps to begin the process of eliminating gender studies at the school.

The Sunshine State — home of Key West, Miami Beach, and Orlando — has been ground zero for laws targeting the LGBTQ community, beginning with the "Don't Say Gay" legislation in 2022 that censored classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

These include a license to discriminate in health care; criminal penalties for gender-affirming care for trans youth; a bathroom bill that requires people to use facilities in public buildings in accordance with their sex assigned at birth; statutory expansion of Don't Say Gay; forbidding of public funds for gender-affirming care for people of any age; and an "adult live performances" law that's even more stringent than one passed in Tennessee earlier this year. (That law doesn't specifically mention drag but drag artists are wary of it. A federal judge in June ruled the Tennessee law is unconstitutional.)

Florida's "adult live performances" legislation is on hold after a federal judge filed an injunction, stopping enforcement until its constitutionality could be determined, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

DeSantis' office did not return a request for comment for this report as of press time.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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