Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast-based Republican just elected Speaker of the House, returned to his criticism of what he called “drag queen storytime” today in an interview on WNZF, repeating controversial–and baseless–claims that some parents are more interested in defending drag queens than ensuring that children learn to read.
Echoing similar criticism by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who referred to parents taking children to drag shows as “disturbing,” Renner first made the equally vague claim in his first speech as Speaker last week. He seized on the relatively sudden transformation of a particular kind of children’s events into an ideological flashpoint.
Drag Story Hour, where adult readers in drag read classics to children, started as a non-profit some seven years ago as a way to promote literacy and diversity, especially for marginalized audiences. It spread to public libraries and other venues. It very recently became a target of the hard right’s criticism–and of virulent misinformation–part of a more generalized criticism of the normalization of LGBTQ lifestyles.
Renner was interviewed this morning on WNZF’s Free For All Fridays by host David Ayres, who touched on several issues ahead of a special session and on Renner’s tenure as speaker. Ayres asked Renner about the reference to drag story hour in last week’s speech.
“Whatever your thing is in as an adult, that’s your thing,” Renner said. “If they want to go to drag queen storytime as adults, that’s fine. But the obsession by some advocacy groups that want to frankly sexualize our children in this regard with this idea of drag queen storytime is just one example.” It wasn’t clear what example Renner was referring to, and Ayres did not ask for a clarification, but Renner appeared either not to know what the story hours were about or was intentionally mischaracterizing them as “sexualization,” by inaccurately conflating drag queens with sexual performances: drag shows, whether for adults or children, has as much (or as little) to do with sex as any musician’s or stand-up comedian’s performance, and in story hour, it expressly has nothing to do with it.
It is, ironically, the reactionary movement against story hour that has sexualized it, as Renner did on the air: “Whatever their thing is, we have adults who are obsessed with their thing and what their wants are at the expense of what our children need,” he said. “Our children need to learn to read. We have almost half of our students–and Florida is better than most states is the sad news–but even in Florida, barely half our students can read at grade level by the third grade.” (According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the national report card, Florida fourth graders ranked third in the nation in proficiency.)
“So our children have needs academically and our sole focus should be on reading, math, general knowledge, the things that once upon a time, you know, were common sense and understood,” Renner said, “and not this obsession by some that they’ve got to get in there and teach kids about their 39 Gender possibilities and this kind of thing.” Again, it was not clear what “gender possibilities” Renner was referring to, or where in Florida reading teachers were not teaching reading–there are no such documented cases–let alone reading teachers “sexualizing” children.
Ayres did not challenge the Speaker then or when Renner said that “the left” brought “indoctrination into our education system, with things that are frankly deeply disturbing to anybody.”
Brian McMillan, his co-host, tried: “How do we accomplish what you’re saying to make schools, you know, pure and true about like teaching the basics, and make sure that that happens, and also make sure that a drag queen does not feel ostracized, unloved–you’re not wanted in Florida. How do we make sure that everyone does still feel included and wanted, and not feel like okay, I guess our state legislature doesn’t like us.”
Renner deflected: “The two conversations are entirely different,” he said. “What you do as an adult, fine. If you want to be a drag queen or you want to go to a drag queen storytime or a drag queen show, you know, that’s how you exercise your freedom and nobody, nobody on my side of the aisle is saying anything other than that’s their right to do that. What I am saying is, you have no business, no business, trying to sexualize young children. And that’s what’s happening. And so it’s happening not just on that front, but on other fronts.”
It appeared that Renner, a supporter of Florida’s “parental bill of rights,” was objecting to parents’ right to take their children to Drag Story Hour even as he was again mis-characterizing such reading events as sexual shows.
McMillan did not have a chance for a follow-up. “All right, fair enough. Let’s talk about local here in Flagler County,” Ayres interjected. Renner was speaking by phone. The show’s other guest was Greg Hansen, the county commissioner just named chairman of the commission (in place of Joe Mullins, who was defeated.) There were no guests who might provide either a corrective to Renner or a different perspective.
Jill Reynolds, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Flagler County, did so after hearing Renner’s remarks.
“It’s time for Mr. Renner to put away his fictional talking points and take a look in the mirror of the Republican Party,” Reynolds said. “You know, he cites indoctrination of children, sexualization of children, but doesn’t cite any examples. However, he did not cite the example of Florida Representative Mark Foley for having to resign from sending sexually explicit messages to teenage girls, or Dennis Hastert, the longest running Republican Speaker of the House, paying hush money for sexually abusing high school kids. Or Joel Greenberg, who just got sentenced to 11 years for sex trafficking. Or Donald Trump who barged in on pageant teenage girls’ dressing room and laugh about it publicly. He needs to clean up his own house before he makes ridiculous imaginary claims. And as far as half of our students only being able to read at grade level: Maybe if the Florida legislators stopped squeezing school funding, stopped pushing teachers out of school for fear of being sued, and maybe more kids went to a drag queen storytime, they’d be able to read better.”
In full form, Renner also targeted socially responsible corporations and investing, 24 hours after DeSantis announced he was pulling $2 billion in state assets from BlackRock Inc., the New York-based investment firm and the world’s largest asset manager.
Verging on the xenophobic, Renner said capitalism risks losing its way. “This doctrine of ESG has been a movement that’s come from outside of our country,” he said. He was referring to what’s known as the environmental, social and governance approach to investing. Renner is partly right: ESG as such is not an American concept, but its origins are: it is a derivative of Socially Responsible Investing SRI), a movement that emerged out of the American civil rights and women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s.
Decades later, what started as a United Nations report on Principles for Responsible Investment grew into a global force. Its aim was sustainable investment based on certain criteria that reflect good corporate citizenship–lowering carbon emissions, furthering sound employment practices, encouraging diversity. It’s not clear what, among those criteria, Renner opposes.
Companies sign on, pledging to support ESG principles. The movement started relatively small. But as of today, it has grown to 5,179 signatory companies with $121 trillion in managed assets. Innumerable American companies are among the signatories, and the United States is now close to dominating the share of assets under management. (See the latest report here.)
ESG’s aim remains money-making, not politics, but money-making away from the “greed is good” ethos of the 1980s. Companies get an ESG rating (the same way companies and governments get a credit rating) only as a guide to investors. The ratings have been controversial, because they are not in themselves necessarily reflective of ESG principles. “Most technology stocks, including Alphabet and Meta, are part of E.S.G. funds, despite concerns about their role in facilitating the spread of misinformation and hate speech,” Hans Taparia, a professor at NYU’s business school wrote in September. “Coca-Cola and Pepsi have gotten very high E.S.G. scores and find themselves in most big E.S.G. funds, despite manufacturing products that are a major cause of diabetes, obesity and early mortality and despite being the world’s largest contributors to plastic pollution. Perhaps most egregiously, BP and Exxon get respectable ratings from MSCI.”
In Florida’s right-wing circles, ESG is being framed as an ideological threat much as the GOP turned “critical race theory” into a stalking horse in public education, even though there is no such thing as critical race theory in school curriculums. Renner on the radio, perhaps relying on the fact that ESG is as little understood as CRT, described it in misleading, baseless terms: “It is using incredible economic power to force political change that belongs in our Congress, in our state legislatures, in front of we the people to decide,” Renner said. “Do we want to go in a particular direction, and the cost that we face are decisions we make all day in the political process. But they’re being made for us by what I call Martini millionaires.”
Remarkably, Renner, who describes himself as a champion of the free market who believes in limited government, was reversing the equation: the free market cannot be so free as to devise its own social-responsibility ratings for investors, or give those investors that much clout. That clout belongs to government.
Ayres again did not challenge Renner. It was then that he moved on to “drag queen storytime.”
If. Paul Renner and DeSantis are supporting proper education so much then why do they support someone with no education whatsoever and no experience at all for the position on the Flagler School Board . Liars and hypocrits .
Of course he does. He has no interest in the good of the people. His own career and power are all that’s important.
Michael Cocchiola says
I am so disappointed in Paul Renner. One-on-one, he seems almost like a responsible adult. But he’s not. He’s just another Republican culture warrior kissing DeSantis’ ass. Shame on him!
Good news… two more years and he’s out. He could run for another office, but by then maybe Flagler will have “awoken”.
James k says
I never cared if someone was “gay“ until they started shoving it in my face,
and the faces of our children.
I never cared what color they are, until they started blaming my race for their problems.
I never cared about their political affiliation until they started to condemn me for mine.
I never cared where you were born until they wanted to erase my history and blame my
ancestors for their current problems.
I never cared if you were well-off or poor, until they said they were discriminated against,
when I was promoted because I worked harder.
I never cared if their beliefs were different from mine, until they said my beliefs were not allowed.
I never cared if I owned a gun until they told me I wouldn’t be allowed to.
(or take the ones I own legally).
Now I care.
My patience and tolerance are gone. Up yours, Libs and Dems.
Vincent Lyon says
Your comment lacks any form of empathy. Did you really never care about the suffering of your fellow human beings until It started to make you personally a little uncomfortable?
I think your splitting hairs on James K comments and I believe he ment that it didnt matter if gay or straight, political affiliation or religious beliefs because everyone is intitled to their own opinion and they can live their lives how they choose. I feel the same way, I don’t push my agenda on anyone and I expect the same in return.
Fearmonger much. Try not to over think the situation. The only time Government halfway functions is in the middle. Most of what you state is mis/disinformation
Who is shoving gay in your face?
Who is shoving it in the face of children?
Who is blaming “your” race for their problems?
Who is erasing your history?
Who claimed discrimination because you got promoted?
Who says your beliefs are not allowed?
Who is taking your gun?
There is no doubt that there are some people who are guilty of doing the things you are complaining about. But they are a minority themselves (the majority of Americans are not doing any of this) and they have not been successful. Accepting gay people is not “shoving it in your face”. Some people do blame their problems on another race. That’s not accepted standard in this country. Who is erasing history? I guess you think not celebrating Confederate generals is “erasing history”? The civil war is our history. Celebrating the generals who waged war against the US is wrong. I’m southern born and raised. (Are you?). People claim discrimination in the workplace all the time. Seldom have I seen them be successful. If you got promoted then your company recognized your performance. Let the company handle the discrimination claim. You can help by not painting everyone with the same brush. No one’s beliefs are not allowed (unless of course you are referring to the 2020 election and you think it was stolen). Is someone stopping you from practicing your religion or are you just watching talking heads who point out that somewhere some idiot said your religion is bad? So what? No one is stopping you from practicing your religion. I own guns and I believe in the second amendment. I don’t want to lose my guns either. But I’d guess the difference between you and me is that I hate seeing mass murders at schools and stores and churches….. I can see that no everyone in this country should have the ABILITY to own a gun even though they have the RIGHT. Just like drunk driving can cause you to lose your license to drive. So you can live in a closed minded world if you want.
Copy and pasted maybe? Well, not the up yours part… I expect.
James K.: That was cute, but I don’t believe you. What solidified my belief was “Up yours, Libs and Dems.”
Thank you so much for reinforcing why it is that we need MORE diversity, and more education. I’m so sorry you have been so aggrieved and trampled upon, having other people’s rights and privileges shoved in your face. Can you just imaging the audacity of others wanting and demanding the (oh my God!) exact same rights and privileges that YOU have always had and taken for granted!? So sacrilegious of us to do such a horrible thing! One last thought… get over yourself!!!
Girl named Sue says
Well said. Millennia of human history attests to the facts. No need to persecute those suffering from gender dysphoria or mental illness in general but also no need to push others to normalize it because you want to virtue signal with your view of drag queens, etc.
That this is an organized group who purposely targets children in libraries tells me alot about their intentions and its not positive.
Oh FFS. Drag Queens have literally been around since the dawn of time. Don’t look now but at one point all female roles in plays and musicals were once played by men. Quick – we better burn all copies of Tootsie. Bosom Buddies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and The Birdcage. Hurry now, Rupaul’s Drag Race is the most dangerous content on planet earth. Don’t stop there, there are books ans music and video games you crazies can censor too.
I will say it again – how many drag queens have been convicted of child porn or child abuse: zero. How many priests and Republican? The list is in the thousands.
If YOU don’t want your kids to see drag queens, read certain books, watch certain movies or TV, play certain video games, then BE A PARENT TO YOUR OWN KID AND LEAVE MY KID ALONE. You have ZERO right or authority to tell my kid what they can read or watch. That is MY responsibility. My child. My parenting. Take your crazy wacko conspiracy theories about pedo dungeons in pizza parlors and your fascist ideologies and ruin your own child’s life with your perverse filth. IDC. Why? It is YOUR kid. I plan on letting MY kid read whatever book she wants to read, play whatever video game she wants to play, and if she wants to see a movie beyond her age, we will watch it together and TALK ABOUT IT – my god people, talk to your effing kids. We talk ALL the time. She’s a great kid too. Smart. Thoughtful. And open-minded. She’s curious about life and shocker I let her ask questions and seek answers. I don’t try and control her and make her something she’s not. If she’s straight, she’s straight. If she’s LGBTQ+, then she is. If she likes Christianity, good for her. If she’s atheist, agnostic, likes Hindu or Wiccan, then that’s HER choice to make.
Choice. That’s what we were all given by God. Choice and free will. Why are you faux Christians going against your God? Hmm? I have a theory why there is so much anti and hate from these people and it stems from insecurities. You see a woman or man walking down the street, you think she’s beautiful or he’s handsome only later you learn they are trans and you freak out. Suddenly you can no longer function because you’re not that way. You want to ban all forms of expression. All creativity. All modes of independent thought. Why? You were, in your mind, duped. You need to, make it easier to identify who is who and what is going on because that one time you thought a trans woman or trans man was attractive. Horror of all horrors.
Drag Queens, books, LGBTQ, POC, movies, music, video games are not the enemy. The enemy is the only telling you how to live and what you can do with your life. Authoritarianism and fascism are the enemy. Believe me they are and it is so awful you think it’s what you want but you don’t. No one is safe from them. My family fled Europe during the reign of Hitler. 1/2 were Jewish, the other half were not. Hitler wanted to kill both sides of my family. Why? Why would he want to kill people that looked like him and his army? Because they refused to comply and do the things they wanted. No one is safe. Please wake up before it’s too late. You really, really don’t want what you think you do.
Bob J says
well said. Being older in life I’ve seen and read a lot of things and seen a lot of things. None of which have affected my life up bringing or my children.
And The alleged Christians wonder why Church attendance is a historic lows
You said zero have been convicted of child porn or abuse. See below.
DeSantis and Renner are dangerous people, in my opinion. With them, up is down and down is up, and it’s mind blowing how easily they manipulate their constituents because they know their constituents do their *research* on confirmation bias shows, social media and podcasts. How much easier can it get for them? They will not stop with the division tactics as it works for them on a personal career level. It’s shameless.
To think that drag queens are “sexualizing’ children is absurd. They are about as dangerous to children as Spiderman or Superman, in skin tight body stockings and masks! I mean, come on! If that’s what parents are worried about, then they should be keeping a stern eye on priests, Boy Scout leaders, where the kids are going, family members, single mothers’ boyfriends, internet games and social media. According to the FBI, kids have codes for hiding online possible predators/stalkers from their parents.
Youngsters often employ a secret Internet language to use when their parents are nearby. Examples include:
– PAW or PRW: Parents are watching
– PIR: Parents in room
– POS: Parent over shoulder
– P911: Parent emergency
– (L)MIRL: (Let’s) meet in real life
Worry about the real stuff, not the baloney made up by selfish ambition.
With all that shoving, blaming, discrimination and condemnation, I guess you really are as angry as you seem. Not sure if that’s introspection or just plain, old self absorption. How do you step outside your home everyday with so much fear and loathing?
Lance Carroll says
Devil’s advocate: What if parent/parents take their child to church? Would that be considered indoctrination of a child? What if others, beyond the church, don’t approve of what a pastor or youth leader is reading aloud to children in the group? What if a substantial amount of church leaders have been brought up on charges, and prosecuted, for victimizing children/minors? Are we to believe that all drag persons are the same as a growing number of church leaders that have been prosecuted for sexual exploitation of children? Not all church leaders are exploiting children, right? Not all drag people the same… I wouldn’t mind seeing the, actual statistics of the comparison of drag people and church leaders sexually exploiting children.
Flaglerlive, are those, actual, statistics available?
Personal note from my life experience as a vulnerable child and, now as a parent: I’d trust a drag person to babysit well before I’d trust a church leader.
The talk, lately, about Hollywood and a certain political party are perpetrating sexual crimes against children and adults alike…. Let’s not be fooled by any one person or entity that sexually exploits children and/or adults….no litmus test there.
Personal view from my own life experiences: I’d rather take a ride home from a drag person than a church leader.
….and, I’ll give both (either of them) a ride home if they need. Drag person can ride in the cab of my truck…..church leader in the bed of the truck!
Vincent Lyon says
I have a follow up for him:
Are you saying you can’t look at a drag queen without feeling sexually aroused?
What exactly do you find arousing about talking to a man in a dress?
Renner seemed okay when he started out. He talked about real issues and improving the community.
I don’t know if he’s faking it now to keep power or was faking it then to get elected.
Oh just like some parents care more about their assault rifle stash than the safety of their kids at school.
Just pandering to the base. They are willing to sacrifice rational thought for power. And Florida does too.
Been There says
I think that the right has a shared innate fear of clowns. When I was a child and went to the circus, there were always men wearing heavy make-up, in skirts, with flowers on their hats, and stuffed on top, performing.
What’s the difference? Oh, I know, serial killers don’t dress like drag queens.
The protestors standing outside drag events with their automatic weapons, dressed in fatigues, yelling at children as they enter and exit the facilities are far more traumatic. THEY are the scary ones.
Maybe if Flagerlive wants to make the point that drag shows are not sexualized, they should include a clip on one that they can point to as “benign”. I’ve seen enough of these clips on YT that feature scantily clad men gyrating and shaking their private parts in front of children that I can say with certainty that not all of them are benign. There was even a show in Minneapolis in which a man in a miniskirt exposed what looked like a penis (there is some dispute over what it really was) in front of a crowd of kids, something that would have been quite unlikely with a more ordinary story reader. There was another story-hour performer in Houston who turned out to be a convicted sex offender. But even if there are tamed versions of these shows, I question how healthy it is to expose an impressionable kid to a man who thinks he is a woman, just as it would be unhealthy to expose a kid to a man who thinks he is a vampire, or a zebra. There is nothing medical science can do to turn a male human into a female human, a vampire or a zebra; carving fake genitalia of the opposite sex might make some confused individuals happier, but it’s not going to change their DNA. And with that DNA, their bodies are going to fight any changes the plastic surgeons can make, making it necessary to periodically “touch up” these surgeries for the life of the patient. I don’t hate people who put themselves through this whether or not it’s wise, and have no religious beliefs that would prohibit it, but I question the ethics of encouraging this kind of confusion in impressionable kids, especially kids who are awkward in other respects and might think of a sex change (or a specie change) as some kind of escape. Such kids are in for a bitter disappointment when they find that “transitioning” is not as simple as its advocates claim, and that after publicly identifying as something that they are not, they will never be viewed the same way as they would have been by their peers. Kids are too young to make such decisions and should be encouraged to, at least until they reach adulthood, live with the bodies nature gave them.