One of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s new appointees to the oversight board in charge of Disney’s special tax district has called homosexuality “evil” and previously embraced a conspiracy theory that estrogen-filled tap water is making more people gay.
Ron Peri, an Orlando-based former pastor and CEO of The Gathering, a male-centric Christian ministry, was recently appointed by DeSantis to oversee the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which includes more than 25,000 acres of Disney-owned properties in Central Florida.
At DeSantis’s behest, his fellow Republicans, who control the state legislature, pushed through legislation changing the district’s name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and giving DeSantis the power to replace the members of the tax district’s oversight board.
Critics of the move say the change to Reedy Creek’s governance was a form of retaliation against the Walt Disney Company for speaking out against the so-called “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The measure prohibits instruction or discussion in grades K-3 of gender or sexual orientation, and requires that any discussion of those topics in older grades be “age or developmentally appropriate.”
Disney was initially silent on the bill, which Republicans were determined to pass, but the company later spoke out and agreed to pause all political donations to Florida politicians following internal backlash from LGBTQ employees and demonstrations protesting Disney’s response to the law.
According to CNN, Peri has frequently made derogatory remarks about the LGBTQ community, lamenting the greater visibility of LGBTQ people and the lack of societal condemnation for homosexuality.
“So why are there homosexuals today?” Peri said in a January 2022 Zoom discussion, later posted to YouTube. “There are any number of reasons, you know, that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out.”
Peri continued: “The level of testosterone in men broadly in America has declined by 50 points in the past 10 years. You know, and so, maybe that’s a part of it. But the big part I would suggest to you, based upon what it’s saying here, is the removal of constraint.
“So our society provided the constraint. And so, which is the responsibility of a society to constrain people from doing evil? Well, you remove the constraints, and then evil occurs.”
While testosterone levels in men have dropped in recent decades, researchers are unsure why, but the drop is not 50%, and there is no indication that that drop has led more individuals to identify as LGBTQ.
There is also no evidence that estrogen levels — for which birth control pills account for a statistically insignificant amount — in water affect a person’s sexual orientation.
Rather, such a claim echoes past conspiracy theories that chemicals in water have turned frogs gay.
During the same discussion, Peri said homosexuality was “shameful,” and linked it to disease. “There are a lot of unhealthy effects of a homosexual lifestyle,” he said. “There are diseases, but it goes beyond that.”
Peri has also argued that LGBTQ people “don’t have a stake in the future” because many do not have biological children, and called gay people “deviant.”
According to CNN, in one discussion, Peri repeated a well-worn trope utilized by far-right Christian activists that links homosexuality to the fall of the Roman Empire.
“Homosexuality was praised,” Peri reportedly said of Roman civilization. “LGBTQ today is being emphasized everywhere, even on children’s shows. And so ultimately the Romans had become weak.”
Peri has also opined on other controversial social issues, including abortion, which he has compared to genocides like the Holocaust.
DeSantis told supporters last week that Disney’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act was “only a mild annoyance” and that the primary motivation for stripping away its control of its tax district was to punish the company for allegedly injecting “a lot of this sexuality into the programming for young kids.”
DeSantis has suggested that the new board — whose other members, besides Peri, include Martin Garcia, a Tampa lawyer whose private investment firm contributed $50,000 to DeSantis’s re-election campaign, and Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of the conservative Moms for Liberty organization and the wife of Christian Ziegler, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida — might influence Disney’s business decisions by adding park discounts for Florida residents or altering the company’s entertainment offerings.
“When you lose your way, you know, you gotta have people that are going to tell you the truth, and so we hope that they can get back on,” DeSantis said. “But I think all these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”
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