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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Florida’s recent legislation and American hypocrisy

The Florida State Capitol building is pictured.

In the past month, the Florida state government has released various bills that encroach upon the rights of people of color, gay and trans individuals. On March 14, it was revealed that Florida House Bill 999, Postsecondary Educational Institutions, has prohibited universities from financing any activities “that espouse diversity, equity, or inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.” Another bill addressing racial matters was issued this year, and the Florida Department of Education banned AP African American studies in all public high schools. 

Meanwhile, toward the end of February, the Parental Rights in Education Act was implemented which now prevents public school educators from holding classroom discussions surrounding gender and sexuality. On March 13, Florida legislators also pushed for legislation that criminalized gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.

All of these new policies threaten the rights of marginalized communities. Florida’s new legislation concerning education does not come as a surprise to anyone that has witnessed discourse surrounding these matters: Conservative Americans have frequently voiced strong distaste for the incorporation of racial representation and social justice within educational institutions. Much of this distaste is rooted in the belief that discussions of nonwhite or queer identities are forced onto students. Furthermore, from the conservative perspective, these discussions are seen as unnecessary and harmful to the student population.  

The truth of the matter, however, is that marginalized youth consistently face discrimination from all aspects of their lives, and receiving representation within their schools is the very least that they deserve. The discomfort that more privileged students might experience during these discussions of oppressed identities is rooted in a sheltered ignorance that cannot be prioritized over the well-being of historically marginalized communities.

Clearly, however, the state of Florida does not think this to be the case, choosing rather to perpetuate white supremacist and homophobic ideals all the while suppressing one of the supposedly core tenets of American values: freedom of speech. Additionally, Florida’s prohibition of gender-affirming surgery for transgender minors could cause palpable harm to transgender youth who struggle with gender dysphoria and discrimination on a daily basis and for whom gender-affirming surgery can be one of the only options to attain well-being. 

Florida’s implementation of these policies becomes even more jarring when examined alongside American public opinion towards foreign nations who institute similarly violent legislation. Throughout the decades, the United States has portrayed itself as an international defender of human rights. The American government and people have frequently outcried human rights abuses against women, ethnic and religious minorities and queer populations across non-Western countries. Ironically, an Americanstate is now realizing legislation that oppresses these very communities that are paradoxically so valued when existing abroad but completely dismissed when existing within our own nation. 

If it were any country in the developing world that is implementing these same bills in Florida, there would no doubt be public uproar about how these nations are committing human rights abuses. Certainly, if they did prohibit the mere discussionof gay and trans people in high schools, the study of the history of one of their country’s most oppressed communities, and lessened the ability for transgender youth to feel safe, it would be a gross violation of rights. However, extreme hypocrisy among the American public means that introducing the rhetoric of human rights abuses, often accompanied by the visceral hatred that Americans experience when witnessing other countries performing these acts, is not applied to Florida’s current legislation. 

Florida’s recent bills illuminate the deeply ironic nature of the United States priding itself upon its constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression and using the existence of these rights as a reason to characterize itself as the arbiter of human rights. How can Americans in good conscience look down upon authoritarian nations for suppressing freedom of speech when one of our own states is banning the discussion of queer identities and the study of African American literature in its public high schools? Certainly, authoritarian countries should face international criticism. However, American disdain towards these countries is often rooted in a sense of superiority, a notion that we are better; clearly, we are not. 

The representation, well-being and safety of marginalized communities need to be upheld all across the world. Oppressed peoples on all corners of the globe deserve to have their identities validated and their histories recognized. However, it is long overdue for us to apply this mentality to both the international order and our own nation.