Families fleeing Florida, Texas amid anti-LGBTQ legislation, nonprofit head says

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 12, 2023
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Leaders of LGBTQ organizations said on a webinar that families are fleeing states like Florida and Texas because of anti-LGBTQ laws that have been passed. Photos: Florida, courtesy WPTV; Texas, courtesy Twitter
Leaders of LGBTQ organizations said on a webinar that families are fleeing states like Florida and Texas because of anti-LGBTQ laws that have been passed. Photos: Florida, courtesy WPTV; Texas, courtesy Twitter

Families fleeing states passing anti-LGBTQ legislation can get microgrants from one nonprofit, whose leader said people are "leaving everything they know and almost in a dark-of-night situation."

Susan Maasch, who said she is part of the LGBT community and is cisgender, is on the board of directors of the Maine-based Trans Youth Equality Foundation. Taking part in an Ethnic Media Services webinar May 12, Maasch said, "It's very different hearing about it on the news, knowing what's right and wrong, and hearing the stories out of the mouths of the families that are fleeing."

The states Maasch's organization has helped people leave the most are Florida and Texas. The maximum amount it provides is $3,000.

"Recently we decided we'd announce we're offering microgrants to any families that were fleeing red states and put the word out there," Maasch said. "We have heard from hundreds of people, so of course we are overwhelmed by requests, and of course it's heartbreaking."

Speaking with the Bay Area Reporter after Friday's event, "A War on Transgender People," Maasch said that applications closed May 10.

"We will decide next week our final list of grantees and we will then have the number of people we can help," Maasch stated. "Families are getting anywhere up to $3,000, so much less for some."

In response to questions of how many people are being helped and whether the B.A.R. could speak to one or more of the grantees, Maasch stated, "We will not be allowing info on them to be shared. We will, however, share their stories ourselves with no identifying info so as to raise awareness. Maybe some will share their stories later."

During the webinar, Maasch had stated, "Families are so scared, and the rhetoric, and the discrimination, and the emboldening of hate toward them and toward their children is increasing so much that there's a fear and there's an urgency that a lot of families feel, so what it really looks like is hundreds of people packing their cars, fleeing their houses, selling them, quickly dumping them."

One example Maasch mentioned was of a single mother who moved to Minnesota. She did not mention the person's name or where she came from.

"In this family, for instance, the mother of three children, she doesn't know anyone in Minnesota, she doesn't know where to go in Minnesota," Maasch said. "She has to go to the lowest income area."

The webinar went on for a little over an hour Friday morning and featured Nadine Smith, a queer woman who is the executive director of Equality Florida; Texas state Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston), a straight ally; and Sailor Jones, a trans person who is associate director of Common Cause North Carolina.

Smith did not speak about the travel advisory that her organization sent out April 12, as the B.A.R. reported last month, which warned, "Florida may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence." (A written question the B.A.R. directed to Smith about this was not asked during the webinar.)

That said, Equality Florida press secretary Brandon Wolf returned a request for comment from the B.A.R. on Monday, May 15, in which he referred to the "DeSantis regime" and said that the travel advisory was all about helping people think through the current situation. "We determined that it was necessary to provide an honest look at how the current political landscape and impending policies may impact people so that they can make the best, informed decisions for themselves and their families," Wolf stated.

"Each individual situation is different," he stated. "Some have assessed the risks and determined that Florida is not the right destination for them at this time. Others see an opportunity to be on the ground and make an impact. But across the board, the response has been overwhelming: people want to be in the fight for freedom in Florida. Conference planners and businesses have asked for resources to help their attendees have a positive impact on the community. Those who have pulled out of Florida are making it a statement of their values. Whether you come to Florida or do not, we ask that you consider how you can more deeply engage in the fight."

During the webinar, Smith did talk about many of the same issues that led to the travel advisory — such as actions spearheaded by the state's GOP and the administration of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, that have "pulled every single far-right MAGA issue to the forefront," as she noted.

These included the recent expansion of the so-called Don't Say Gay law, which had banned classroom discussion or teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade but now extends prohibitions on such conversations through the 12th grade, administrative actions against drag shows, and a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth.

"When [Florida's legislature] passed it, they swore [Don't Say Gay] was about keeping inappropriate material away from kindergarteners, first, second, and third graders, but it was written so broadly it takes books wholesale out of libraries," Smith said, including "any book with a trans person" in some instances.

"School districts out of a fear of complying with language that is very vague have gone to the extreme in some cases, saying to a gay teacher they can't have their partner's picture, a picture of your family," she added.

Smith also discussed a "bathroom bill" in Florida that headed to DeSantis' desk earlier this month. House Bill 1521 makes it a misdemeanor crime to use a bathroom that doesn't align with a person's sex as assigned at birth. The bill applies to facilities in state and local government buildings, schools, colleges, and detention centers. That's a change from the original bill, which lawmakers significantly scaled back so it no longer applies to bathrooms in restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses as it did previously, as Politico reported.

"As a Black Southerner, when we talk about access to restrooms and public spaces, I know it is not truly about bathrooms," Smith said. "It's about limiting the ability of trans people to be in public space."

Smith framed the fight in intersectional terms, with societal change leading to "existential panic" in older, whiter voters, she said.

"The headline is it is an attack on the trans community, it is an attack on the LGBT community, it is an attack to whitewash American history so we don't talk about rank, it is not to make America great again, it is to roll back the progress of decades," she said.

She concluded, "The objective is a kind of Apartheid state," referring to the system of racial segregation in South Africa when it was governed by the white minority population there.


Wu said that his colleagues in the Lone Star State's legislature have not given up on a bathroom bill there.

"We've managed to send this bill back twice back to the committee in finding procedural errors in it, and they're bringing it out for a third time," Wu said. "Normally when a bill gets sent back that many times, leadership decides, 'No more, we're done. It's taking up too much time and attention, attention we can use to do other things, anything else.' It says a lot that they're devoting this much effort to go after a small, minority population that has really done nothing to any of them."

Wu tied this to prior legislative crusades against gays and lesbians, and a current bill that would've disallowed Chinese nationals from buying homes in Texas (the language was softened to agricultural, oil, gas, timber, and mining land, and the bill has not as yet been signed, though it has been passed by the Texas Senate).

"The basic [modus operandi] for the Legislature — any legislature, especially the Texas Legislature — is that the people in charge look for communities, look for groups that are convenient targets, people don't necessarily understand, don't necessarily have sympathy for, and there's an 'ick' factor that they use," Wu said.

Wu, who's been a state representative since 2013, said, "If I lose my seat doing what is right: good. Good."

"What is going to actually stop this — the real thing that will stop this line of attacks, not just against the transgender community or the LGBT community ... is for good people, average Americans, average Texans, to stand up and say 'No. No more. Enough ... When you focus on these kind of issues, we will punish you. We will vote against you,'" Wu added.

Wu said that's what makes visibility important, since people knowing a gay or lesbian person was instrumental in their fights for equality, such as same-sex marriage.

North Carolina

Jones, of Common Cause North Carolina, said that Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson (R) is on a campaign of hate in the state.

"Robinson is currently making the rounds at the Black churches in the places that I grew up in the hopes of using his fear campaign," Jones said.

Robinson has said that the trans movement is "of the Antichrist," and that "a church that flies that rainbow flag ... is a direct spit in the face to God Almighty."

"As a trans person myself, who has lived through the anti-LGBT Amendment 1, this is the first fight we've considered — me and my wife — have considered leaving my home state," Jones said, referring to a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution.

Updated, 5/15/23: This article has been updated with additional comments from Equality Florida.

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