Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been in the news almost every day for years since he has begun signing “anti-woke” legislation. 

What does “woke” mean? The term “woke” originates from Black culture, the phrase “stay woke,” being used to encourage people to be politically conscious and aware. Conservatives have started using the word to insult those with progressive views. The DeSantis administration defines the term “woke” as “the belief there are system injustices in American society and the need to address them.” As the Governor of Florida continues to push for legislation that rejects “woke ideology,” he continues to face backlash nationwide. 

This year alone he has signed dozens of bills that have made headlines. What “anti-woke” bills are being signed in Florida and why are they dangerous?


Let’s talk about it.


Anti-Trans Bills

Governor DeSantis has not been shy about his efforts to take away the rights of transgender students and individuals. In May, he made headlines for expanding bans on gender-affirming healthcare and other transgender rights. One anti-trans bill bans gender affirming healthcare for transgender children, including hormone blockers and sex-reassignment surgery. The bill also states that if a child is receiving gender-affirming healthcare, it would be viewed under the same lens as child abuse and could result in the child being removed from their home and being under temporary custody of the state.

These bills also include the restriction of teachers and faculty utilizing pronouns chosen by a student that does not align with their sex assigned at birth. 

Most shocking is a bill that bans people from using a gendered bathroom that does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. This means transgender females will be forced to utilize men’s restrooms or risk being charged with a second-degree trespassing misdemeanor. There are critics to this legislation, Democrats calling it “dehumanizing.” He also signed legislation banning transgender athletes from playing in sports opposite of the one they were assigned at birth. 

Attack on DEI Programs

In June, the Supreme Court ruled to put an end to affirmative action, “a policy aimed at increasing workplace and educational opportunities for people who are underrepresented in various areas of our society”. 

Ahead of the game, DeSantis signed legislation to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities a month earlier on May 15. DeSantis himself calls the DEI programs a “distraction from the core mission.”

This legislation means that, “Florida state universities are barred from spending state or federal funds to promote, support or maintain any programs that ‘advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.’”

Controlling the banks

On May 2, DeSantis signed a bill to block financial institutions from investing or refusing to invest based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. DeSantis passing this bill means that banks will be forced to provide loans and invest money to companies like gun manufacturers and fossil fuel companies and are not allowed to refuse money based on ESG factors.

Extreme Abortion Ban

DeSantis recently signed a bill called the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” which enforced an abortion ban after six weeks with very few exceptions. The only exceptions which would allow an abortion up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy are rape, incest and human trafficking. Despite these exceptions, they are only accepted if the woman provides a copy of a “restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order/documentation providing evidence.” Nationwide about 63% of rape goes unreported making it the most under-reported crime. Many victims seeking an abortion will not have the documents mandatory to be an exception to the law.

While this more restrictive abortion ban has been signed by DeSantis, it will not officially be law until 30 days after the state Supreme Court upholds the current 15-week ban in a challenge brought against them by Planned Parenthood.

Censorship on Education

Governor Desantis signed his infamous “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics coined the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in 2022 which prohibits the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom through third grade. Recently he has expanded on it, making those teaching prohibited in all K-12 classrooms. This has only resulted in the censorship of education and opportunities being denied to young Florida students. 

Most recently, this law has challenged the teachings of the AP Psychology course created by the College Board which has a curriculum that is the same nationwide. While Florida claims that the course can continue to be taught if the lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity are removed, College Board argues that it is not possible. 

In their statement, the non-profit says, “(We) will not modify our courses to accommodate restrictions on teaching essential, college-level topics. Doing so would break the fundamental promise of AP: colleges wouldn’t broadly accept that course for credit and that course wouldn’t prepare students for careers in the discipline.”

With the College Board stating that the only solution is to ban the course in the state of Florida, the Florida Department of Education reversed their decision to try to limit the teachings of the course but they continue to push for censorship of education in other ways.

How is this happening so fast?

There are two things that can account for Governor DeSantis making such a dent in Florida politics so quickly. The first is that Florida has one of “the weakest governorships in the country” since Reconstruction and into the 1960s when Florida governors shared authority with only six elected Cabinet officers. In 1998, the number got reduced down to just three Cabinet positions: Chief Financial Officer, Attorney General and the Commissioner of Agriculture. All three positions are currently held by members of the Republican Party which means there is no arguing when it comes to pushing legislation that aligns with the Governors far right agenda.

The second is that DeSantis is known for being a bit of a bully. Many feel that they cannot speak out against him because he will only retaliate and hurt them. Andrew Warren was a twice-elected Hillsborough County State Attorney that served the Democratic Party and DeSantis suspended him in an attempt to “root out” progressive prosecutors. He has constantly retaliated against businesses whose agendas do not align with his own, most famously his dispute with Disney. The Governor also vetoed $35 million in state spending for a youth sports complex which the Tampa Bay Rays were planning to use as a spring training facility. The money was vetoed because the state has spoken out about donating $50,000 to a gun-control organization following the Uvalde school shooting. The Special Olympics quickly reversed a COVID-19 vaccination rule after being threatened by the Governor with a $27.5 million fine.

Mac Stipanovich, former GOP consultant states that while in the past mayors and others were able to criticize the governor and move on after a bit of public arguing, while “today, if you criticize the governor, he goes after you…and unless you have a pretty stiff spine … it’s just easier to be quiet.”

These reasons standing, legislation is being signed left and right, the next bill seemingly more dangerous and controlling than the last. The anti-trans bills he passed is dangerous because it promotes transphobia and violence against transgender individuals. The exception rules to the new abortion ban promote the silencing of victims. His control on business is unethical and dangerous as it only allows business to conduct in Florida so long as it follows his political and personal agenda.

With DeSantis set to run in the 2024 Presidential Election, the type of politics that are practiced in Florida are threatening to be practiced nationwide. 

Censorship is dangerous, and in a state that claims to fight for “freedom” it seems this freedom does not apply to the Black, brown, queer, and progressive residents of the Sunshine State.

About the Author: Gabriella Manresa is the Service Specialist Intern of the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Gabriella is a student at Kean University obtaining both a Bachelors and Masters of Public Administration through the university’s BA/MPA Honors Program.