LGBTQ Agenda: Equality Florida issues travel advisory against visiting, moving to Sunshine State

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 18, 2023
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Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida may see fewer queer visitors after Equality Florida issued a travel advisory last week urging LGBTQs not to travel or move to the state because of far-right policies by the DeSantis administration. Photo: Courtesy Walt Disney World website
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida may see fewer queer visitors after Equality Florida issued a travel advisory last week urging LGBTQs not to travel or move to the state because of far-right policies by the DeSantis administration. Photo: Courtesy Walt Disney World website

There may not be as many queer visitors to Disney World or other attractions in Florida after the statewide LGBTQ rights organization took the unprecedented step of issuing a travel advisory for the state in light of recent hard-right policies.

Equality Florida issued its advisory April 12, warning of the risks of traveling or moving to the state considering the recent actions of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' administration.

"Florida may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence," the advisory bluntly states. "Taken in their totality, Florida's slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state.

"We regret that these attacks have already led many to flee the state and are driving others to consider relocation," the advisory continues. "And, in a state whose economy is fueled by visitors from around the world, it is with great sadness that Equality Florida has had to take the extraordinary step of responding to inquiries by issuing an official advisory warning about the risks of travel to the state."

DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, championed the so-called Don't Say Gay law last year, which bans classroom discussion or teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Lessons for students older than third grade have to be "age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards," according to the text of the law that does not, however, define what is age or developmentally appropriate.

DeSantis' administration is currently moving to forbid such instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades and that would not need legislative approval as it's being done though the education department, the Associated Press reported.

After the Walt Disney Co. announced its opposition to the Don't Say Gay law last year, DeSantis began a feud with the Walt Disney World Resort operators that led to the governing jurisdiction and tax district of the resort being moved to the purview of his office.

But before DeSantis' hand-picked replacements to the board were seated, the Disney-controlled predecessors pulled a legal maneuver that stripped the new board of most powers. Now, according to Fortune magazine, "supervisors of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District are floating a resolution saying the board has 'superior authority' over all land development decisions for the 27,000 acres that make up Walt Disney World, including for two tiny Disney controlled cities in the district."

The Walt Disney Co. did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time. Disney World, located in Orlando, is the largest employer in Central Florida, with close to 75,000 employees.

In another anti-LGBTQ move, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the DeSantis administration is seeking to revoke liquor licenses of venues or concession suppliers that hold drag shows, which the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, termed a "public nuisance" that "corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency."

The B.A.R. also reported that Florida's Board of Medicine banned gender-affirming care for youth. That went into effect in March.

Equality Florida did not respond to a request for comment for this report but Nadine Smith, the group's executive director, stated that until relatively recently Florida, once considered a swing state, is moving backward.

"As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida's reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live, work, and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms," Smith stated in a news release announcing the advisory.

Imani Rupert-Gordon, a queer woman who's the executive director of San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed that sentiment, stating to the B.A.R. that the advisory is a powerful reminder.

"Experts on authoritarianism have warned us that one of the gravest dangers when leaders abuse their power and target vulnerable minorities is that we can become acclimated to oppression and lose our ability to respond appropriately," Rupert-Gordon said. "This is a wake-up call to the country and a plea to remember: what is happening in Florida is not normal."

The Florida Immigrant Coalition and the state's chapters of the NAACP issued their own travel advisories aimed at the migrant and Black communities, respectively. Neither responded to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

DeSantis' office has not responded to a request for comment for this report as of press time, but for his part, the governor responded to a question about the NAACP's travel advisory during a news conference last month saying, "It's a pure stunt and fine, if you want to waste your time on a stunt, that's fine. But I'm not wasting my time on your stunt."

Implications for SF, CA policies

The Florida travel advisory comes as California and San Francisco lawmakers are moving to end bans on publicly funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws that both have currently. San Francisco's administrative code Chapter 12X also contained a prohibition on contracting with companies headquartered in those states, but the Board of Supervisors repealed that in March and Mayor London Breed has signed the ordinance.

The supervisors are expected to soon take up proposed legislation by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman that would repeal Chapter 12X in its entirety. It was heard in the board's rules committee Monday, April 17.

At the state level, as the B.A.R. previously reported, lesbian California Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) is moving to end the Golden State's ban on using taxpayer money for travel to 23 states that have passed anti-LGBTQ legislation over the past eight years.

Atkins' Senate Bill 447, called the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality, would create a marketing program in those states attacking LGBTQ rights that Atkins said would "encourage acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community."

When asked about the Florida travel advisory, Atkins stated that "moves like this are even more evidence that policies like SB 447 are urgent and necessary to help establish a counternarrative to combat the hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies coming out of states, like Florida."

Gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who authored the original state travel ban — Assembly Bill 1887 — has spoken out against repealing it.

Atkins' bill will was heard in the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development April 17 and passed on a 10-3 vote.

Mandelman did not respond to a request for comment for this report, but gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, when asked in the context of the Equality Florida travel advisory, said scrapping 12X would still be the best move. He framed his position as practical and philosophical.

On the practical side, referring to the now-repealed contracting provision, Dorsey said that "we haven't made any difference with our laws and are just making contracting more expensive."

On the philosophical side, "I take the Obama principle — 'We are not blue states and red states but the United States of America' — and for the long view, I'd rather engage with contractors in other states. The Democratic coalition which, knock-on-wood, will reelect Joe Biden, will include Georgia and North Carolina," Dorsey said.

Still, though there is a distinction he considers between contracting and traveling, Dorsey said that a travel ban sends the wrong message.

He recalled seeing the National AIDS Memorial Quilt during its large display in Golden Gate Park last June.

"A lot of speakers were from the South," Dorsey said, adding that San Franciscans need to be "making sure we are supporting our brothers and sisters and nonbinary siblings in other states. There are a lot of reasons to travel to Alabama, Mississippi, and other states."

As for the Sunshine State, "I would defer to Equality Florida on travel. I don't feel as strongly about travel restrictions."

Updated 4/18/23: This article has been updated with information on state Senator Toni Atkins' bill.

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