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Florida Republican lawmaker pivots from banning Pride flags — to protecting Confederate monuments

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Dubbed by critics as the “don’t display gay” bill, the legislation had advanced through a committee in the House.

Legislation that would have banned the Pride flag and similar signage from government properties in Florida appears dead this year.

Dubbed by critics as the “don’t display gay” bill, the legislation had advanced through a committee in the House. But the Senate sponsor unexpectedly asked for the bill to be delayed until further notice after supporters made openly homophobic and transphobic remarks to the committee considering the legislation.

Florida Sen. Jonathan Martin, a Republican, amid public testimony decrying the legislation as hateful and anti-LGBTQ, asked for public testimony to be abruptly stopped. He said a scheduling conflict required him to present another bill. The postponement of a first committee vote, halfway through Florida’s legislative session, was widely seen as killing the bill until next year.

“The failure of a Florida Senate bill aimed at banning the rainbow flag—a powerful symbol of LGBTQ resilience against government-sanctioned discrimination—is a significant victory,” reads a statement released by Equality Florida.

“Equality Florida stands proudly alongside all who journeyed to Tallahassee to voice their opposition to this flag ban and the harmful motives underlying the legislation.”

Ironically, Martin abandoned this bill purportedly so he could instead present a different bill widely seen as an effort to preserve Confederate monuments. That bill cleared its Senate committee, but Republican Senate President Kathleen Passidomo appeared to sideline that legislation the next morning after it attracted open support from white supremacy groups. “I’m not going to bring a bill to the floor that is so abhorrent to everybody,” Passidomo told reporters the next day.

Martin championed both bills in the Senate, and maintained the flag bill was not specifically about quashing LGBTQ support but limiting flags promoting any political viewpoint from being flown on government properties. The legislation would also stop the flying of Trump flags, Black Live Matter flags or those of other nations including Israel.

“I’m not concerned about First Amendment issues because I think the viewpoint display of any flag on government property is something that the courts for years, whether it has dealt with in the past specifically religious flags, they have said there’s no place for that on government property,” Martin said.

He also said his bill didn’t impact matters like painting the Pride flag of Black Lives Matter in road intersections.

“This bill covers cloth, not paint,” Martin said.

But the bill was widely seen by LGBTQ+ Floridians and by homophobic groups as an attack specifically on the Pride flag.

Former Florida Rep. Joe Saunders, one of Florida’s first out legislators and a Democratic candidate for Florida House this year, said it would send a terrible message if gay lawmakers could not fly Pride flags outside their offices.

“At the time I was elected, there had never been LGBTQ people serving in this building in the seats that you sit in,” Saunders said. “There are many now that sit alongside you, both in the House and in the Senate.

“Us hanging a flag that represents our community in one of our offices, one of your offices, would be a violation of the law were this bill to pass, and I can’t square that. LGBTQ people exist in this state.”

Perhaps more influential than pleas from LGBTQ leaders, the committee hearing was also disrupted as antigay speakers voiced support for the bill.

“The idea the rainbow flag is inclusive, it is not inclusive,” said John Labriola of the Christian Family Coalition. “There is no color there for heterosexuals. How is that inclusive? It is a highly offensive flag.”

At one point, Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, argued with Labriola when he said there was no such thing as transgenderism. He then went on to call the Pride flag a form of sexual “grooming” that, when appearing in classrooms, urged students to become gay or bisexual instead of straight.

“You should stop talking,” Polsky said to applause. “I’m not sure what any of this has to do with flags, but no. I’m done with this person.”

Martin shortly after asked for his bill to be set aside.

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