“Jack Denton’s Words Disqualify Him From Holding FSU’s Senate Presidency”
Screenshots have been circulating in which Jack Denton, the President of Florida Statements University’s Student Senate, made transphobic, racist, and anti-abortion comments. Denton’s words send a dehumanizing message to womxn, trans, queer, and black students at FSU, and prove that he is unfit to hold the office of Senate President. Yesterday, in a vote of no confidence, an attempt was made to vote Denton out of the Senate, but failed to reach the 66% threshold required to do so. Pictured below, are Denton’s statements.
The students appeared to be having a conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement, whose public profile has been raised by protests responding to the murder of Geroge Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN. Denton responded to a message from one student listing organizations advancing the cause of racial justice that they could donate to by warning that the organizations Black Lives Matter, Reclaim the Block, and the American Civil Liberties Union “advocate for things that are explicitly anti-Catholic”.
When asked by other students to clarify what he meant by “anti-Catholic,” Denton said that Black Lives Matter “fosters ‘a queer affirming network’ and defends transgenderism” and the ACLU “defends laws protecting abortion facilities and sued states that restricted abortion access.” He even claimed that Reclaim the Block’s mission is “contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good” because the organization “claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PD’s [police department’s] budgets”. In a later message, Denton attempted to justify himself by saying that “if I stay silent while my brothers and sisters may be supporting organizations that promotes grave evils, I have sinned through my silence.”
Denton’s words are alarming for many reasons. Firstly, he interrupted a conversation about systemic racism and the murder of black Americans by police officers with his own fears of “anti-Catholic” discrimination. Denton, a white man, centered himself in a discussion about racism, treating advocacy for “things that are explicitly anti-Catholic” as equivalent to anti-black racism.
The discrimination historically and currently experienced by Catholic Americans is not in any way comparable to the discrimination historically and currently experienced by Black Americans. Catholic Americans were not enslaved for over two centuries. They were not kept disfranchised and segregated from other Americans for another century after that. They are not disproportionately incarcerated, nor systemically kept from voting, nor plagued by a racial wealth gap. They do fear being beaten or killed by the police because of the color of their skin.
Furthermore, Denton’s characterization of support for the LGBTQ+ community, abortion, and defunding police as “anti-Catholic” is inaccurate. None of these positions are inherently anti-Catholic, it is fully possible to be Catholic and support queer and trans folx (or be queer and/or trans yourself), abortion, and defunding police. Like many, Denton is attempting to use his religious identification as a cover for bigotry and cannot be let off the hook.
Executive Director of Pride Student Union, Hannah Llende, spoke to Spire Magazine’s Editor in Chief about the ongoing situation. “Queer students are angry, hurt, and tired. Not only is it Pride month, but this June marks the 25th anniversary of Pride becoming an SGA agency. To have an elected and paid representative express such hatred is just another example of how we aren’t done fighting to be treated like we matter.”
Llende then called attention to the recent police shooting in Tallahassee in which a transgender Black man, Tony McDade, was killed. “It was only a few days ago that Tony McDade, a trans masculine Black individual was murdered by TPD. The LGBTQ+ community deserves a Student Body willing to fight for them and we just don’t see that happening.”
Among the many concerns about Jack Denton’s ability to lead is the worry that his personal religious beliefs are harming resolutions intended to aid the LGBTQ+ student body at FSU. When asked about his track record, Llende said that many queer affirming pieces of legislation and resolutions have been stalled or ignored. Specifically, Denton refused to recognize a resolution to introduce gender neutral language into SGA rules and statutes. He has a history.
“Although we were able to get that resolution passed this year, it took at least three attempts to make that happen. In the 71st Student Senate [last year’s], this resolution had finally been voted on by the student body and received a majority of votes. However, when it came time for the student Senate to formally recognize this student based resolution, it was deemed unable to be recognized by Jack Denton.”
In her experience with SGA, Hannah Llende stated that in her interactions with senators, “many use their power to silence queer voices, through inaction, legislative voting, denying interviews, treating confirmation candidates unfairly based on gender and/or sexuality, and the general refusal to uphold their promise to protect the student body.”
As the President of FSU’s Senate, Denton has the power to make decisions which impact the lives of FSU’s queer and trans students. Given his active opposition to queerness and “transgenderism”, this is unacceptable. FSU claims to prohibit discrimination based upon “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression,” but how is this possible when the leader of FSU’s student government describes advocating for LGBTQ+ rights as promoting “grave evils?” Denton’s position makes him a representative of FSU, and his words send a clear message to queer and trans students that they are not welcome.
It is troubling to see Denton dismiss the ACLU, an organization who has historically played a key role in the fight for racial justice — fighting the internment of Japanese Americans during world War II and co-partnering with the NAACP for Brown v. Board of Education — and continues to do so, because it defends abortion. Denton once again creates a false equivalency, this time between those advocating for access to safe and legal abortion and those committing acts of racist violence against Black Americans.
The most muddled of Denton’s comments is his claim that defunding the police is “contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good.” I will confess to being an Agnostic who was raised Methodist and has no experience with Catholic scripture. However, my background as a History major and a cursory Google search inform me that the earliest iterations of police forces did not emerge until the 1600s, at which point the Bible was most certainly already written. It’s therefore hard to understand how wishing to defund the police is “anti-Catholic.” Also, are Black Americans a part of Denton’s conception of “the common good?” If so, then how is it in the common to good to continue funding an institution which was founded on white supremacist principles and continues to harm and murder black Americans with heartbreaking frequency?
Although Denton’s statements are not overtly racist in the same way that they are overtly queer/homophobic and anti-abortion, they are contigent upon two fundamentally racist premises: a.) that “anti-Catholic” discrimination is equivalent to the violent oppression faced by Black Americans and b.) that organizations dedicated to saving the lives of Black Americans are unworthy of support because of their support for supposedley “anti-Catholic” causes. While Denton is deeply concerned with the “grave evils” of advocating for LGBTQ+ individuals’ human and civil rights, access to safe and legal abortion (which, by the way, is a form of healthcare, another human right), and defunding the police, he has no equivalent concern for the truly grave evil of racism.
The Presidency of FSU’s Student Senate is a powerful position which Jack Denton has proven himself unworthy of holding. His words show that he holds values which are antithetical to FSU’s anti-discrimination policy and could make our school’s most marginalized students feel unwelcome and unsafe. Dentons should resign from the Presidency at once.
The Spire staff as a united front would like to announce our support for the removal and/or resignation of Jack Denton from the SGA senate. Read Editor In Chief, Emily Pacenti’s, individual public statement here.
Students may sign the petition supporting Jack Denton’s removal. In addition, students may consider signing a petition in support of a required race/ethnicity credit for FSU students in light of frequent incidents of race-based hate on our campus.
For students willing to voice their concerns, a special senate meeting has been called via Zoom that will take place this coming Friday, June 5, at 5pm EST. The link to join will be made available via the SGA Senate Twitter Account.