This is how it goes. There is an initial spark of horror – in this case, the abject realization that our country had elected a television and real-estate mogul into its highest office in November – and then come the stages of grief.
It is no hyperbole to state that the election of President Donald Trump has already been a source of anxiety for progressives and people who follow either history or politics. These things happen, we tell ourselves. It will get better, we sigh. Maybe we’ll be safe; maybe Trump does like the LGBTQ community; maybe Vice President Pence has a switch on his back that will allow some kind of social diplomacy between the others and himself. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
But there is no small irony in the fact that as we put this issue of Watermark – Central Florida’s and Tampa Bay’s hub for LGBTQ news and entertainment – to bed on a Tuesday afternoon that you can judge this book by its cover. We have misgivings about Trump, his cabinet, and our own conservative legislature, and we are more than happy to document them. We didn’t see the timing of this with that of Betsy DeVos’ hairline fracture of a victory brought to you – historically – by the single vote of one Mike Pence.
This week’s cover deals with the struggle to get sensible sex ed into Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the valiant efforts by outside groups to make LGBTQ concerns part of the curriculum in public schools. Just after noon on Feb. 7, heiress to the DeVos fortune – she of Amway dollars and “school choice” leanings and millions in familial donations to causes that would see LGBTQ Americans fade back into the wallpaper – was confirmed as the secretary of education. During her congressional hearings, DeVos rang strange bells of guns and grizzlies but turned on no light bulbs of ideas about education. To the contrary, the public education discussion introduced us to a DeVos who seemed alternately indifferent and hostile to one of the key tenets of American society. It didn’t look like she studied before the exam.
DeVos’ history boasts a litany of terrible choices, “school choice” among them. She’s a known donor to the Foundation for Traditional Values; she has actively lobbied for vouchers to fund private schools on the taxpayers’ dime; she, according to a scathing report card from Mother Jones, sat on the board of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, a group which supports the idea that public education is ruining the moral fabric of America by ignoring religion (and capitalism!). Her mother’s foundation donated millions to Focus on the Family, an allegation she denies any connection to, despite tax records proving otherwise, as a “clerical error.” Her father-in-law Rich DeVos – owner of the Orlando Magic and purchaser of the naming rights for its home in downtown Orlando supported California’s Proposition 8 and other anti-LGBT causes to the tune of $2 million. She is unqualified. Her position has been purchased. This is a nightmare.
Even more to the point, the Democrats of the U.S. Senate spent the entire night of Feb. 6 into Feb. 7 trying their hardest to secure just one more vote to keep DeVos from her new throne of privatization. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence tilted the vote in her favor in a manner that no other cabinet position has required in history. History? What’s that?
And so it is that we approach public education this week with a bit of a sideways glance.
We’re angry, and we intend to remain angry and vigilant as rights and society are peeled back over the next four years. We aren’t snowflakes; we’re people.
As such, we have to look outside of our buzzing hive mind and into the better things surrounding us. This week’s issue hops into high art via a Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Dali Museum and a celebration of the philanthropic life of Orlando legend Harriet Lake by the Orlando Ballet. We tackle some tough issues – immigration, municipal government campaign announcements and more Trump terror of the Pulse variety among them – but we are still what we are: a well-rounded, well-informed source for concern and distraction.
So, climb on in with us. It may be a bumpy ride, but we know where we are going.