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Florida's LGBTQ+ Activists Plan to Fight Back Against DeSantis's ‘Slate of Hate’

Florida's LGBTQ+ Activists Plan to Fight Back Against DeSantis's ‘Slate of Hate’

Ron DeSantis

Activists say more than 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in the recent legislative session.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claims respect for parents’ rights while signing anti-LGBTQ laws. But parents of queer kids see the Sunshine State becoming less safe for their families.

Equality Florida held a joint press conference with LGBTQ+ voices in the state the same day DeSantis signed a “slate of hate.” The Governor on Wednesday signed bills banning gender-affirming care for minors, regulating bathroom use by gender assigned at birth, extending Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, and cracking down on businesses hosting drag shows.

"This is not about protecting children,” said Jennifer Solomon, president of PFLAG South Miami. “This is about a political agenda. And in my role as a parent and my role as an advocate for other families in this state, this is extremely scary. We have families that are leaving the state because they cannot properly parent their child."

Joe Saunders, senior policy director for Equality Florida, said the Florida Legislature saw 22 anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed this year, with eight ultimately passed. DeSantis has now signed more than half of those in what has been a record year for bigotry in the Sunshine State.

This batch, he notably signed on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia. Nadine Smith, founder of Equality Florida, doesn’t believe that is 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.

Smith pointed at OpenDoorsFlorida, a coalition of business groups opposed to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Many individuals suggested the laws signed would be difficult to enforce at all in a state known as a raucous vacation destination for Spring Breakers, LGBTQ+ visitors, and partiers of all sexuality and identity.

"I remind you we live in Florida, where more women are topless at the beach than they are in the streets,” said drag performer and activist Angelique Young, a trans woman. “People can walk around in places like Miami with barely any clothing and we live in a state that the law is as long as the hole is covered, we can walk through the streets in thongs and bathing suits and whatever we want as long as our nipples are covered and our booty holes are covered.

“Basically, let's be real about it.”

At the same time, restrictions on everything from medication to education to a night at the theater have already felt a chilling effect. The DeSantis administration in recent months has threatened the teaching certificate of a superintendent urging teachers not to adjust lesson plans, the liquor license of a hotel catering a drag show, and the medical licenses of doctors providing gender-affirming care to minors.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former state lawmaker and Equality Florida policy advisor, said the LGBTQ-friendly businesses and institutions should try to weather the current wave of bigotry in stride. Speaking to the drag show crackdown, he said businesses should stay the course.

"This law, just like so many others, is using vagueness as a sword to intimidate people and to create fear in such a way that they are scared to open their doors to drag performances for fear of retribution, fear of $10,000 fines and fees, fear of jail time as the bill is currently written,” the Democratic politician said. “But our advice for folks is simple. Don't run, don't hide.”

Still, leaders acknowledge that’s riskier than ever, and many feel threatened just living day to day in an environment enabling extremist rhetoric.

“These actions will fan the flames of hatred and bigotry and homophobia and transphobia in our state, and many in the community I think are really struggling to comprehend what it will mean,” said Nathan Bruemmer, president of the Florida LGBTQ Democratic Caucus.

But activists said LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in the state must work to expose the hypocrisy of the legislation.

“My parental rights are being violated by laws like this because it's going to allow people who are not accepting of families like mine, where I have two queer children, to dictate what my children can learn in school,” said Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

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