Karine Jean-Pierre
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Pro-LGBTQ+ Companies Funded Florida Lawmakers Who Back 'Don't Say Gay'

Walgreens NBC Duke Energy logos

Companies such as Comcast/NBCUniversal, AT&T, and Walgreens all purport to be supportive of LGBTQ+ people — but they and other pro-LGBTQ+ businesses have donated to Florida politicians who are backing the state’s notorious “don’t say gay” bill.

The news website Popular Information reviewed campaign contributions from 2020 onward to the bill’s sponsors in the Florida House and Senate, the senators who voted for the bill in committee, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not officially committed to signing it into law but has indicated support for it. House and Senate committees have both approved their versions of the bill, and each version awaits action by the full House and Senate.

The legislation would ban all classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the early grades and, for all grades, any mention not deemed age-appropriate for students, age-appropriate being a vague term and subject to interpretation. It could mean that teachers could not deal with Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality, for instance, or that they could not let students with LGBTQ+ parents talk about their families. It has been denounced by President Joe Biden and other leading politicians and activists, including Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten.

The chief Senate sponsor, Republican Dennis Baxley, has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and actions, Popular Information notes. For instance, he voted against a bill confirming same-sex couples’ right to adopt children because, he said, he “simply can’t affirm homosexuality.” He has called families with same-sex parents “dysfunctional,” putting them in the same category as families where parents are alcoholic or abusive. He once said there is “a war, a battle, an assault going on, on the traditional family.”

Yet Baxley has received campaign donations from companies that claim to be pro-LGBTQ+ and have high or even perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Since 2020, he has gotten contributions of $1,000 each from Comcast/NBCUniversal and Duke Energy, and $500 from AT&T. Comcast/NBCUniversal, Duke Energy, AT&T, and Walgreens have donated to other legislators who’ve voted for the measure in committee.

Governors’ races, of course, are bigger than state legislative ones, and DeSantis has received bigger donations from corporations. He was first elected in 2018 and is running for reelection in 2022 (and is being touted as a possible Republican candidate for president in 2024).

Contributions to DeSantis since 2020 from LGBTQ-friendly companies included $200,000 from UnitedHealth Group, $80,000 from AT&T, and $25,000 from Duke Energy, according to Popular Information. Walgreens’ contributions of $28,000 were divided among DeSantis and other Florida politicians who support the “don’t say gay” legislation.

Other companies and associations that have donated to “don’t say gay” supporters include Anheuser-Busch ($75,000), Charter Communications ($102,000), Publix ($125,000), and the National Association of Realtors ($100,000). They have varying degrees of support for the LGBTQ+ community — Anheuser-Busch, for example, has a perfect rating from HRC. Neither these companies nor those previously mentioned responded to Popular Information’s request for comment.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, called on companies to cease supporting politicians who back the legislation. Corporations should also speak out against it, she told the site.

Florida isn’t alone in considering some version of a “don’t say gay” bill. Fifteen bills pending in nine states would have the effect of “silencing speech about LGBTQ+ identities,” according to a new report from PEN America, a group that defends freedom of expression.

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