DeSantis criticizes gender studies, DEI in schools at Midland GOP fundraiser

Florida governor speaks against "woke indoctrination," touts political success

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis speaks at the annual Dave Camp Spring Breakfast on April 6, 2023 at the Great Hall Banquet Center in Midland, Mich.

Editor's Note: The story was originally published on April 6 at 5p.m. and said Northwood University sponsored the event. At 8a.m. on April 7, CM Life received notice from a university spokesperson that Northwood did not sponsor the event. It was determined incorrect information was provided to CM Life, which labeled the university as having purchased 2 VIP tables on the university's behalf. The president and one of the trustees purchased the tickets for about 20 guests, out of their own pocket.

The Midland Great Hall Banquet and Convention Center was filled with about 600 people earlier today for a fundraising event benefiting the Midland County Republicans. 

The annual event, the Dave Camp Spring Breakfast, sold out because of the morning’s keynote speaker, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

In his address to the room, DeSantis spoke on many of his key political positions, including criticisms of “woke” public education, critical race theory, gender affirming healthcare and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

“A parent … should be able to send their kids to elementary school without having some agenda shoved down their throat,” DeSantis said, “without having a teacher tell a young student that they may have been born in the wrong body or that they can choose their gender. That is inappropriate and we put a stop to that in the state of Florida.” 

He referenced Florida’s recent ban on gender-affirming healthcare for adolescents, a change which will strip doctors of their medical license if they provide gender reassignment medication or surgeries to minors. 

DeSantis devoted much of his speech to criticizing U.S. education for “indoctrinating” children into liberal political ideologies, calling for the elimination of the Michigan Board of Education and for more parental control of curriculum. 

He also mentioned Florida’s ban on teaching critical race theory – the belief that racism is inherent in every institution – which was applauded by the audience. 

DeSantis also spoke against DEI in education and workplaces, changing the acronym to “division, exclusion and indoctrination,” which he said does not “have a lot of value from a taxpayer perspective.” 

New College, a liberal arts college in Sarasota, Florida, was another political success DeSantis mentioned. He claimed the institution was an unsuccessful “ideological epicenter,” before he appointed a conservative majority to its board of trustees, who fired and replaced the president and provost.  

“The mission of New College is not to be a Marxist indoctrination center, but is actually to be the top classical liberal arts college in America,” DeSantis said. 

He also talked about a new policy in Florida, saying that "all tenured professors must undergo review every five years and can be terminated for poor performance."  

DeSantis boasted about GOP political success over Florida Democrats, referring to his state as “the free state of Florida,” a sentiment other speakers echoed. 

He pointed to Florida's "riot legislation," citing Black Lives Matter protests in Summer 2020.

"We're not going to allow cities in Florida to burn to the ground like it happend in Minneapolis," DeSantis said. "That legislation to hold the rioters accountable was actually criticized by the United Nations. I know we must be on the right track if the U.N. is criticizing us." 

He also credited his administration's avoidance of COVID-19 precautions – like masking, vaccines and isolation – for increases in Florida’s Republican voters.    

“We in Florida serve as the promised land,” DeSantis said. 

Inside the building, DeSantis touted his slogan “Florida is where woke goes to die.” Across the street, several dozen people gathered to protest the governor’s visit. Stephanie Garrett-Jones, from Detroit, held a sign that said “Michigan is where fascism goes to die.” 

“He (DeSantis) is a fascist,” Garrett-Jones said. “He bans books. He’s trying to take over the state of Florida. He’s taking away women’s rights.” 

Protesters shouted chants like “so much blood on your hands” and “go home fascist.” Other signs held LGBTQ pride flags and slogans like “don’t DeSantis my Detroit.” 

Kate Stymiest, a 2022 graduate from Alma College who came to the protest, said she wanted to stand against “DeSantis and the policies he stands for.”

“We are pro-trans, we are pro-LGBTQIA+,” Stymiest said. “We don’t support the government interfering in educational institutions. When we’re cutting access to education, that’s one thing, but then they enter the schools and start telling educational institutions what they can and can’t teach. 

“That’s straight up propaganda. That’s straight up erasure of history. It’s really scary and it feels really dystopian.”

Shelby Foor, a student at Northwood University, said her school did not allow posters promoting the protest. According to the event program, Northwood purchased two VIP tables at the breakfast.

A spokesperson for the university said the event program was incorrect and clarified no university funds were used to support the event or purchase the tables. The tables were bought by the NU president and one of the trustees out of their own pocket for approximately 20 guests, according to the spokesperson.

“I asked if we could put up posters inviting people and they said, ‘well we don’t identify with any political party,’” Foor said. “It’s just hypocritical.”

Emma Randall, a Midland resident, said they came to the protest in support of transgender people. 

“How could the people of Midland betray their community so openly?” Randall said. “They’re bringing (DeSantis) who’s perpetuated incredible violence throughout Florida. Luckily, we have protections here. 

“Get in touch with your community. Engage with the people around you. They want us to stay isolated so that we feel alone and targeted and scared. The best thing we can do is get in touch with each other and care for each other.” 

After the event, DeSantis traveled to Hillsdale College to promote his recent book, “The Courage to be Free.”

State and local Republican party members came to show their support for DeSantis. Speakers, including Midland County Republican Party Chair Cathy Leikham and State Representative for the 95th District Bill Schuette, gave thanks and acknowledgement to party members and sponsors. Leikham said there were close to 50 sponsors for the event.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo, who attended the event, said she is "excited about the direction of the party." 

"We are going to be very heavily involved between our communities," Karamo said, "making sure they understand the Republican message and that the narrative is broken. That's what we're doing, we're disrupting the narrative."    

To view more photos from the event, click through the gallery below: