Organizers in Tampa have canceled Thursday the annual Pride on the River event a day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a slate of anti-LGBTQ laws.
New laws in Florida include a crackdown on live adult entertainment widely seen as an attack on drag shows. While some drag is designed to be adult-oriented, many drag performances are child-appropriate.
“The political climate is changing so fast with DeSantis thinking he wants to be King and ruler of the U.S.,” Tampa Pride President Carrie West told The Advocate. “People, this guy is a scary joke.”
West noted the organization already held its largest Pride event of the year in March. That event, the Tampa Pride Festival, draws about a million in attendance each year. Pride on the River, a festival last held in September, normally has adults-only entertainment areas, which could draw attention from those looking to enforce the new state law.
West said she brought the Tampa Pride board together to discuss the Downtown Tampa event, which was to enter its third year. Tentative plans included drag brunches at hotels along the Hillsborough River, a boat parade, and a stage for live performances.
The event was going to feature local bands, singers, drag acts, aerial, political and local leaders, a kids' area, a variety of bars, and a food court. Plans also included a RuPaul Girls performance headlining, with a final Rainbow Fireworks display over the river at dusk.
“This is the event that we had to drop because of the jittery governor and his slew team,” West said. “Just plain scary for Florida LGBTQ+ residents.”
The law just signed by DeSantis threatens the business licenses and holds individual employees and volunteers liable if minors get into live performances with sexually suggestive content. That means even if some of the most provocative entertainment was cordoned off in adults-only areas, businesses could be targeted by the state if children snuck in, or even were allowed in with parents.
DeSantis’ administration last year targeted the liquor license for a hotel that catered “A Drag Queen Christmas” performance when video emerged some minors had attended the show.
The governor notably signed the batch of anti-LGBTQ+ bills on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia. Nadine Smith, founder of Equality Florida, doesn’t believe that was a coincidence.
“What we have learned with this governor: Cruelty is always the point,” she said. “We've seen it in the way they've constructed these laws.”
Advocacy groups have vowed to fight many of the infringements on LGBTQ+ rights in court. Groups also note that similar legislation passed in other states resulted in boycotts that crippled economies and forced repeal, most infamously regarding a bathroom bill in North Carolina in 2016. Equality Florida issued a travel advisory earlier this year advising tourists and conference planners to consider the safety of LGBTQ+ travelers before planning trips or events in Florida.