Everyone vs. Florida: Transphobia, Racism, and the Rise of Fascism in America

Interviews with Flordia-based queer activists Bryce Hackmeyer and Maxx Fenning

Protest of the Religious Discrimination Bill by LGBTQI+ Activists in Sydney, Australia (Feb 12, 2022)

Photo by Nikolas Gannon / Unsplash

News & Politics

I have always been afraid to say that America is experiencing a rise in fascism – that recognizing or pointing out fascist policies and people would mean I was too extreme, and people would thus discount my beliefs and opinions. I gaslit myself out of saying it countless times and chalked it up to paranoia and generational trauma, but no more. The more and more people I talked to whose identities and personhood are being attacked by the government validated exactly what I was feeling: we are at a fork in the road between a hope and hatred- that the largely left-leaning Gen Z can beat out gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc.- before fascism takes over our democracy. 

I recently sat down over Zoom with my childhood friend and Occupy Florida & Womens Voices of Southwest Florida activist, Bryce Hackmeyer, and their friend and founder of PRISM FL, Maxx Fenning. Both Florida residents are currently dedicating their time and energy to securing basic human rights for all those being attacked by the government in Florida. 

The relationship between fascism and education policy

Bryce started off by telling me about how they got involved with activism and advocacy with a jarring story where, as a Medical Sciences Undergrad and Masters student at the University of South Florida, they no longer felt comfortable asking the right questions. After sitting down with professors, they received alarming (but not shocking) information: across the board, professors did not feel comfortable speaking up against the state and feared retaliation. One advised Bryce, when asked, that a student advocating for a holistic medical education puts them, their program, and even the school at risk for retaliation. Another professor refrained from speaking on the matter; all the more alarming. The day before Bryce graduated, the Florida Boards of Medicine met for the first time about banning minors from beginning gender-affirming healthcare and since getting their foot in that door, their advocacy work has not stopped. 

I asked them both the question: What would you say to people who don’t know much about what's going on in Florida? What do people need to know about what you are witnessing? 

Both of them were extremely clear: we are witnessing the rise of fascism in Florida (as well as other states) and in the country. 

Maxx delved into the relationship between fascism and education policy saying, “There is a reason that attacks start on schools, academic freedom, and safety in schools. The reason is when you control education [and] schools, you control public perception of issues. Knowledge is a very powerful force, and a key way to take away that power in a very long-term way and in a way that has greater sustainability is through education: depriving people of education, depriving people of knowledge.” 

We must be hyper-vigilant about what is happening in schools nationally, state-wide, and locally because education often becomes a catalyst for change. We should look at what educational materials are being banned or changed (for instance, making ambiguous why Rosa Parks refused to move on the bus in order to control and deprive people of the context of how racism exists/existed, manifested, and it's legacy). We need to look at the bills being passed and understand the differences between their text, their interpretation, and how they are used (and by whom). Florida is already experiencing an institutional takeover at all levels, and so many are unaware or silent. At the end of the day, knowledge is power. First, we learn (and don’t stop learning) and then we disseminate that knowledge because fighting censorship is part of how we fight fascism. 

Desantis' dangerous promises

It is time to stop being complacent. It is time to believe fascists when they tell us their goals – Desantis clearly stated he wanted a heartbeat abortion ban during his campaign and people didn’t believe it could happen, but it did. Now he has said that the United States should re-constitutionalize the federal government. If we ignore this, it may be our future. Florida is now targeting youth in a new voter suppression law that is sitting on Desantis’ desk, and this bill also makes an exception to their “resign to run” law for anyone running for Vice President or President of the United States. Other bills include allowing medical discrimination for the whole queer community based on moral, religious, or ethical beliefs of medical providers that will allow the death of queer folks. We can not ignore these power plays. 

How to get involved in advocacy

If you are from Florida, Bryce and Maxx suggest finding/building community and support networks. Learning and unlearning, joining the fight, spreading the knowledge they are so afraid of us knowing and bringing others in. 

Even if you are not from Florida, we cannot be distracted by the overwhelming nature of policies varying by state – we still must be vigilant on a national level. We must see the bigger picture: all of these issues and human rights abuses are interconnected and this does not end with Florida. Nationally, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA which helped end genocide and residential schools for Indigenous children) may be overturned by the supreme court next month and there are so many who are completely unaware. We must learn and then act to save our democracy. So, call your legislators, vote, and don’t normalize or shrug off these alarms of fascism and white supremacists in power. By shrugging off these alarms, we allow them to continue and grow beyond warning signs. If you have the means, mutual aid funds can support people who have been evicted, lost gender-affirming care coverage, or are fleeing Florida for safety.

Fighting fascism should be bipartisan as should basic and fundamental human rights. To paraphrase Bryce, the longer we spend in denial, the longer fascism can prosper. The extent to which rights have been taken away should be enough, but if it’s not – recognize that this is not the end and it’s going to keep happening until folks en mass decide it's past their breaking point. A lot of people are at their breaking point, the question for many is now whether or not to run away from the dam before it breaks or run away while it's flooding their town. The power is in collective action. We can fight and we can march, but what will it take for you to start marching? What will help those in your life start marching? When are we collectively willing to fight fascism and fight for the democracy, freedom, and equity we were supposedly promised? 

Learn more: 

WVSWFL (Womens Voices of Southwest Florida): www.wvswfl.com & @wvswfl on all socials

PRISM: www.prismfl.org, @prismfl on TikTok, @prism.fl on Instagram, @prism_fl on Twitter

OCCUPY: www.OccupyFlorida.com & @OccupyFlorida on all socials except Twitter (@Occupy_FL)