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After Iowa fail, Florida LGBTQ+ activists want state legislature to ‘divorce DeSantis’

Ron DeSantis Florida Governor 2024 Presidential Run

Following Ron DeSantis’ distant second-place finish in Iowa, LGBTQ+ leaders in Florida say it’s time state lawmakers distance themselves from the homophobic governor.

“It’s time in 2024, it’s time in January, for this legislature to divorce DeSantis,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director.

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Saunders is running this year for a seat in the state House, and spoke Tuesday during a Pride at the Capitol event held by the advocacy group. A number of out and allied Democratic lawmakers asserted the results from the Iowa caucuses, which are normally dominated by evangelical voters, prove DeSantis’ extreme policies don’t fly with the American public.

The Florida governor in the past three years has signed a range of anti-LGBTQ+ bills including bans on transgender care for children, requirements to segregate public bathrooms and changing facilities by gender, prohibiting trans girls and women from scholastic sports, and the first-in-the-nation “don’t say gay” restricting instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the event, Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith voiced hope even Republicans now see those policies won’t fly outside of a small group of rabid right-wing voters. She noted that just a few years ago, many Republican lawmakers supported policies like workforce equality in Florida, before DeSantis came to power and began pushing an agenda targeting transgender people, Black history, and diversity as a whole.

“I'm here to deliver the simple message that we are going to win, period,” she said. “We're going to win, and that's not just me projecting. It is me understanding history.”

She cited numerous chapters in Florida’s history where antigay rhetoric found a platform in Florida, only to inspire tremendous pushback, from the Johns Committee in 1958 trying to root gay professors out of academia to the Anita Bryant-led crusade against sodomy in 1978.

“So to Republicans in this building, I know there are those of you who voted the wrong way these past two legislative sessions,” Smith said. “Some of you are people who put your names on bills to ban discrimination, but you tested the wind and you felt like you couldn’t stand up to it. History will remember what you do this Session if say enough it enough, I will not inflict any more harm. I will not put political expediency above the safety of young people.”

Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, the state’s first out Senator, said the extremism has reached a limit with the public.

“Your policies don’t work. America don’t like ‘em and Florida don’t like ‘em either,” he said. He also cited Florida’s restrictive abortion laws and attacks on undocumented workers are part of the same cultivation of divisive policies, all for the sake of DeSantis’ presidential ambitions. Jones has filed a bill aimed at reversing Florida’s heartbeat bill and said the Legislature needs to turn around many of the policies crafted each year.

Similarly, Florida Rep. Michelle Rayner, the Legislature’s sole lesbian lawmaker right now, said the legislature needs to pass that and a Freedom to Learn bill that would reverse the “don’t say gay” law. Whether a Republican-dominated legislature will consider such moves this year, Rayner said it’s important to fight the fight.

“Sometimes it has to look bleak, and sometimes it has to look dark,” she told gathered activists. “Sometimes it has to feel like you can’t go no way. Sometimes it has to feel like you can’t love who you want to love and sometimes it has to feel like you can’t identify as you would like. But let me tell you the thing that I know, the thing that I’m very aware of, the thing that we celebrated yesterday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day). And that is, freedom is here. Even in the barren land that we have the ‘Free State of Florida,’ we right here in this room are showing folks what freedom actually looks like.”

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