Metro Weekly

DeSantis on the Defensive: “I Don’t Believe in Demeaning Anybody”

The Republican presidential candidate justified his campaign’s sharing of a homophobic ad and his embrace of anti-LGBTQ actions as governor.

Ron DeSantis, Photo: Gage Skidmore

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis claims he has never “demeaned” gay people in a recent interview as he seeks to do damage control as he performs poorly in primary polls. 

The 2024 Republican presidential candidate sat down with Fox News’s Bret Baier on last week to defend recent campaign choices, including airing an ad that people on both sides of the political aisle have deemed homophobic. He also defended his record as governor, including his crusade to rid schools of “woke” ideology – whether that’s altering how African American history is taught, attempting to censor the College Board’s AP Psychology course, making it easier to ban books, or barring LGBTQ discussions in classrooms.

The ad, for which DeSantis has received flak, was originally posted by another user and shared to the DeSantis campaign’s rapid-response team  “DeSantis War Room” account on the platform formerly known as Twitter on the last day of Pride Month.

The video, which has homoerotic overtones, starts by showing past statements from Donald Trump supporting the LGBTQ community, including supporting the idea of a trans woman competing in the Miss Universe competition (which Trump owned at the time) with a rainbow filter. It then switches to dramatic and darker pictures of DeSantis (one of which has lightning shooting from his eyes) with headlines touting his overwhelming anti-LGBTQ efforts in Florida spliced with images of scantily-clad bodybuilders, gladiator stock reel, and clips from the movie American Psycho.

The video was taken down after it received immense backlash from conservatives and liberals, almost all deeming the message as homophobic – and several critics taking note of the video’s homoerotic obsession with masculinity.

Baier, who was interviewing DeSantis as part of his coverage of the 2024 election and the upcoming Republican primaries, asked DeSantis, who is trailing former President Donald Trump in polls since announcing his bid, why he greenlit the bizarre ad. 

DeSantis argued the ad’s focus was targeting former President Trump, and avoided acknowledging the homophobic and transphobic aspects of the video.

“What they hit him on was injecting men into women’s competitions, which he did with his beauty pageants, and then he’s expressed support for allowing men to use women’s locker rooms and bathrooms,” DeSantis said, refusing to recognize the concept of transgender identity. 

“So those are the two issues. I think those are totally legitimate,” he added. 

DeSantis has a long history of being anti-LGBTQ, starting with his “Don’t Say Gay” bill which prohibits classroom discussions of LGBTQ people in public schools, as well as his administration’s exhaustive anti-trans actions – whether through legislation, rulemaking, or executive orders – that prohibit trans youth from medically transitioning or bar transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

“I don’t believe in demeaning anybody, and we have not done that since I’ve been governor,” DeSantis told Baier, obviously flustered by Baier’s questions about the rapid-response team’s decision to share the much-panned video.

“These things get shared or whatever, and look, I’m responsible for it, don’t get me wrong,” DeSantis said. “But the idea that, like, I was sitting there like, ‘Oh, share this video.’ No, it’s a rapid-response thing.”

Baier also asked DeSantis to defend the censorship of topics he deemed “too woke” for schools. In addition to restricting LGBTQ-related discussions, under DeSantis, Florida’s Department of Education has begun to overhaul the way that African American history is taught in Florida schools.

The department has changed how slavery and race-related issues are broached in history classes, seeking to avoid any race-conscious analysis of history by downplaying the horrors of slavery, arguing that slaves were given “benefits” under slavery, and avoiding any lessons that teach about systemic racism or topics that might make white students feel attacked or guilty about the actions of their ancestors. 

DeSantis also doubled down on attacking the concept of transgender identity and the expansion of legal rights for transgender people – moves that critics say dehumanize trans people. 

“On those issues about injecting men into women’s competitions, that’s wrong. We’ve taken a strong stand with respect to women’s athletics, protecting women’s sports. We’ve also protected women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, and at the end of the day, we can’t go down this road where there’s 37 different genders,” he said.

But DeSantis’s decision to double-down on his anti-“woke” and anti-LGBTQ branding does not seem to be helping him gain traction against Trump, even among Republican primary voters who would typically be susceptible to appeals on culture-war issues. A recent poll from New York Times and Siena College puts DeSantis far behind Trump, trailing the former president by 37 points among likely Republican primary voters.

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