Ron DeSantis’ college invites transgender woman to speak: “An honor”

The tiny liberal arts school that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is seeking to transform into a conservative-leaning school invited a transgender woman to speak at the campus.

The New College of Florida asked independent journalist Erin Reed to participate as a guest speaker for a public policy debate that is being hosted by the school as part of a new initiative. The invite states that there would be, at a minimum, one speaker “on each side” of the topic “gender is a social construct.” The discussion would also be moderated.

“It would be our honor to welcome you to our campus,” the invitation, which Reed shared on X, formerly Twitter, reads.

Reed told Newsweek that while she has debated those with opposing views in the past—including conservative activist Chris Rufo, who was appointed by DeSantis to the board of trustees of New College of Florida—she has no plans to attend the campus debate.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visits “Jesse Watters Primetime” at Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria on 6th Avenue in Manhattan on June 29 in New York City. The public college that DeSantis has sought to transform into a conservative campus invited a transgender woman to debate at the school.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

DeSantis, who has used the nation’s culture wars to revamp Florida’s education policies, made several bold and drastic changes to the New College of Florida earlier this year, including the appointment of six new conservative trustees whom the governor hopes will turn the college into a “Hillsdale of the South”—a reference to the conservative Christian liberal arts college in Michigan.

Among those trustees is Rufo, a vocal opponent to the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics, as well as critical race theory, in schools.

The New College of Florida has long been celebrated for its unique educational approach and has repeatedly been ranked among the most “gay-friendly” campuses in the country. But because the Sarasota college is also a public school, it has been subject to the influence of DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

“I think there are good and bad forums for [debating],” Reed said. “Given what we know about New College of Florida and how it has been transformed to suit the political will of Ron DeSantis, how entire majors have been shut down and teachers forced out, and how they are actively attempting to bully LGBT students into transferring out…as well as the criminal bathroom ban in the state…it is not the correct time or place to do so.”

Newsweek reached out to the New College of Florida via email for comment.

DeSantis’ efforts to remake the school have reportedly driven New College of Florida students out of the state, many of whom are fleeing to colleges like Hampshire College in Massachusetts, which has offered to accept any students defecting from New College of Florida at the same tuition.

The migration is also a part of a larger brain drain where young Floridians are leaving the state for educational opportunities as a direct result of the governor’s crusade on “woke” curriculum.

A March poll conducted by education magazine Intelligent found that 91 percent of college-bound high school students from Florida and 79 percent of current students enrolled in the state disagree with DeSantis’ policies.

Nearly 13 percent of graduating high school seniors cited his education policies as a reason for not attending a Florida state college and one out of 20 state college students say they plan to transfer schools because of those policies.

Responding to the invitation on social media, Reed said, “No, I will not travel to speak at DeSantis own college in a place where I will be arrested using the bathroom.”

In September, the Department of Education launched an investigation into the New College of Florida’s trustees following a civil rights complaint that alleged an ongoing trend of discrimination against “protected groups,” like LGBTQ+ students. The complaint cited the removal of gender-neutral bathroom signage in favor of traditional bathroom signage, which the complaint said created a hostile environment for nonbinary college students.

Reed said the invitation to debate was “so transparently a trap it’s funny” and told Newsweek that the topic she was asked to speak about, gender as a social construct, had little to do with her reporting and activism.

“I am a journalist covering political attacks on LGBTQ people, laws banning people from bathrooms and medication, and more. I tend to stay away from the ‘philosophical’ side of things—my knowledge base is far more focused on the material reality of LGBTQ people nationwide,” she said, adding that she was in touch with some individual students about organizing a counter debate with student groups instead of the college’s administration.