Nation’s Largest LGBTQ Advocacy Group Joins Equality Florida In Issuing Updated Florida Travel Advisory
Nation’s Largest LGBTQ Advocacy Group Joins Equality Florida In Issuing Updated Florida Travel Advisory
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- In the wake of Florida’s most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history, Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign have issued an updated travel advisory that details risks associated with relocation or travel to the state. In all, six anti-LGBTQ bills were passed and nearly all have been signed by Governor DeSantis. While not a blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott, the travel advisory outlines the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun safety policies, foment racial prejudice, and attack public education by banning books and censoring curriculum in order that prospective travelers or residents can make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
The updated travel advisory comes days after similar notices were released by national civil rights organizations NAACP and LULAC. The groups warn of Florida’s “open hostility” toward the African American and Latino communities in the wake of laws signed by Governor DeSantis that censor the accurate teaching of American history, defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on campuses, propel bans on books about historical Black figures, target immigrants, and foment racist hate. The Florida Immigrant Coalition also released an advisory warning of the risks associated with relocation or travel to Florida in April.
“Because of Ron DeSantis and his frenzied appeal to extremists, LGBTQ+ people in Florida are finding themselves in a state of emergency every single day. Since the day he took office, Governor DeSantis has weaponized his position to weave bigotry, hate, and discrimination into public law for his own political gain. We see it as our duty to join Equality Florida -- and LULAC and the NAACP -- to provide guidance to our community," said Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign. "Those who visit must join us in their vocal opposition to these dangerous policies. Those who pick another place to work, to go to school or to spend their vacation should make clear why they're not heading to Florida. And to all of our friends and family in Florida, we stand with you and with Equality Florida -- we'll keep working hard to make Florida feel more like the home you deserve it to be.”
Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Executive Director, called on Floridians and those across the country to unite and push back against the alarming rise of Governor DeSantis' right-wing extremism.
“Governor Ron DeSantis has inflicted deep and lasting damage upon our state, eroding the fundamental rights of our residents and visitors while exploiting the word ‘free’ as a hollow campaign slogan,” said Smith. “In free states, books are not banned, history remains uncensored, and healthcare is not criminalized. As a parent, I empathize with every family forced to leave Florida in search of accessible healthcare and inclusive schools for their children. But everyday, I see more and more parents stepping forward to defend their children, their neighbors, their schools, and their communities from these relentless attacks.
Equality Florida stands steadfast on the frontlines, resolute in our commitment to create an inclusive and secure Florida that embraces and safeguards the rights of all residents. If you come to Florida, join us in this fight. If you decide to leave or avoid the state, don’t abandon this fight. Florida is the frontline but this is a national battle for freedom.”
Updates to the advisory include details about expanded anti-LGBTQ restrictions in health care and education, following the signing of laws that
expand Don’t Say LGBTQ’s explicit ban through eight grade (with Department of Education policy that effectively expands those provisions to all grades), escalate book banning, threaten child custody agreements, and cut off care for a vast majority of transgender people in the state. The “Physicians Only” provision of SB 254 prohibits nurse practitioners and physician assistants from providing gender-affirming care to transgender adults, disrupting the health care of an estimated 80%+ of transgender patients at clinics statewide. In the immediate wake of the law’s signing, transgender Floridians began receiving notice that their care was being temporarily or permanently suspended.
The advisory also notes the signing of Florida’s anti-trans bathroom law, a policy that will ban transgender people from using restrooms and changing facilities that align with how they live their lives in publicly-owned or leased buildings, which includes airports, government buildings, convention centers, parks, school campuses and stadiums. That law, which takes effect July 1, will subject visitors and residents alike to criminal penalties for refusing to leave a restroom when asked.
While these laws will be enforced statewide, local business and government leaders are working to mitigate the harms. Those planning major events in the state are actively working to ensure adequate restroom capacity, provide information for attendees to support local pro-equality businesses, and mobilize their networks to be part of the solution in Florida. Local government leaders have begun meeting with Equality Florida and other groups to form LGBTQ task forces and discuss local policy and resource options to protect the community from the most damaging consequences of these laws. In defiance of DeSantis’ intimidation attempts, St. Pete Pride and city leaders have announced that their events will continue as planned and Come Out With Pride Orlando released their official event date. We encourage those interested in supporting the community to buy from or nominate a pro-equality business via the OpenDoors Florida directory.
The updated advisory follows.
To: Interested Parties
From: Equality Florida and The Human Rights Campaign
Subj.: ADVISORY: RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH RELOCATION OR TRAVEL TO FLORIDA
Date: May 23, 2023
Earlier this year, Equality Florida took the unprecedented step of issuing an advisory warning individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and students of the risks associated with relocation or travel to Florida. Now that the Florida’s most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history has come to an end, we are providing an updated advisory here to detail the impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun safety laws and allow untrained, unpermitted carry, and foment racial prejudice. The Governor has also weaponized state agencies to impose sanctions and retribution against businesses large and small that engage in protected speech disfavored by his administration .
Florida has recently adopted a slate of hateful policies that directly target the rights of LGBTQ individuals and basic freedoms broadly. Already, those policies have led many Florida parents to relocate, prospective students to cross Florida colleges and universities off their lists, events and conferences to cancel future gatherings, and the United States military to offer redeployment for service members whose families are now unsafe in the state. Throughout Florida’s legislative session, and now with the enactment of the most anti-LGBTQ legislation in state history, we want to provide a clear-eyed summary of the real world impacts from these dangerous policies so that people can make informed decisions regarding travel or relocation to and from the state.
Censorship and Erasure of the LGBTQ Community in the Classroom
Florida has passed a prohibition on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, through 8th grade via the legislature and an effective prohibition through 12th grade via the State Board of Education
This law has already precipitated a raft of damaging impacts in school districts across the state, including
Hundreds of book challenges and bans targeting titles written by LGBTQ authors and/or including LGBTQ characters
Teachers leaving the profession amidst a statewide teacher shortage
The refusal of districts like Miami-Dade to recognize LGBTQ History Month
The removal of rainbow Safe Space stickers
The censorship of graduation speech content and yearbooks to remove references to LGBTQ identities
Investigations of educators who show parent-approved movies with LGBTQ characters
Warnings to educators and administrators to obscure family photos
State law now revokes a parent’s right to ensure that their child’s pronouns and title are respected at school, allowing teachers and administrators to misgender a student without consequences
The infamous Don’t Say LGBTQ law has made Florida synonymous with the anti-LGBTQ movement to empower government censorship and book banning across the nation. That original law, its recent expansion in the 2023 Legislative Session, and associated agency rulemaking have turned the state’s classrooms into political battlefields and is telegraphing to LGBTQ families and students that they are not welcome in Florida.
Assaults on Medical Freedom
Florida’s Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy have banned transgender youth from entering into lifesaving medical care, and the Agency For Health Care Administration has eliminated all Medicaid coverage–including for transgender adults–accessing that care
The state legislature criminalizes medical providers who provide medically necessary care for transgender youth, enables the courts to revise child custody agreements and reassign transgender youth custody to an unsupportive parent, and severely restricts access to prescribed medical care for transgender adults
Medical providers face felony charges for providing best practice care for transgender youth that is supported by every major medical organization in the country
Transgender adults are no longer able to receive gender affirming care from nurses who have provided it extensively and for many years, their patients now being required to see physicians exclusively for that care.
Transgender adults are also subject to new informed consent protocols for certain care, requiring in-person presence that denies access to Telehealth for that care.
Governor DeSantis recently signed a law that will allow medical providers and insurance companies to deny healthcare services or payment for healthcare services based on a “religious, moral, or ethical belief”
Florida has passed bills that restrict access to reproductive health care, including a near-total abortion ban, which threatens to force people to travel out of state or seek unsafe, illegal abortions.
These policies disproportionately harm marginalized communities, including the direct impacts on the transgender community and communities of color, and could lead to serious health consequences. Transgender Floridians face immediately losing lifesaving, medically necessary care, and supportive parents risk state interference in child custody arrangements under a weaponized state court system for seeking such care. These attacks pose an imminent threat to the health and safety of all in Florida and those considering the state as a permanent or temporary destination should be aware of the risks.
Assaults on Bathroom and Locker Room Access
Florida’s legislature passed a bill that, when signed, will immediately restrict access to bathrooms and locker rooms
The policy will bar transgender people from accessing men’s or women’s bathrooms and locker rooms in publicly-owned or leased buildings that align with their gender identity
Impacted spaces include government owned or leased airports, convention centers, stadiums, and other government buildings, as well as schools and correctional facilities
This law mandates that these spaces rely on sex assigned at birth to segregate facilities and/or provide single-use gender neutral restrooms
Anyone accused of being in the incorrect restroom or locker room faces criminal charges if they refuse after being asked to do so, and the law provides no means of proving that anyone–transgender or cisgender–is in the appropriate bathroom or changing facility
Restrictive bathroom bans are a gross invasion of privacy and make spaces less safe for transgender individuals. This law will disproportionately impact members of the LGBTQ community, as they will face escalating harassment in public restrooms. Transgender visitors could face criminal charges for using the same restrooms they would typically use in their home state or country. Already, stories of cisgender women being aggressively confronted for “not being feminine enough” have surfaced online. Florida’s bathroom restrictions pose an immediate threat to travelers and those considering relocation to the state.
Assaults on Academic Freedom
Florida’s legislature has elected to strip funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs and campus activities not required by law from colleges and universities
The Governor has initiated a hostile, right-wing takeover of higher education and installed partisan allies to implement a conservative overhaul of public universities
His administration has taken aim at AP African American studies, threatening to sever ties with the College Board over the inclusion of queer history and intersectionality in the course, and college majors, including gender studies
These actions by the Governor and his legislative allies pose a serious threat to academic freedom, free speech, and the pursuit of knowledge. DEI departments play a crucial role in promoting diversity and inclusion on campus, and their defunding undermines the ability of students and faculty to engage in critical discussions about issues of race, gender, and identity.
Furthermore, the replacement of university presidents with political appointees threatens the independence of higher education institutions and undermines the ability of these institutions to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students, faculty, and staff. These attacks on public education are deeply concerning, and further reinforce a message that Florida is not a welcoming state for people from all backgrounds. We urge individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and students to consider the implications of seeking education in Florida, and to support efforts to defend public education and academic freedom in the state.
Assaults on Arts, Entertainment, and Sports Participation
Florida banned transgender women and girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity
The legislature passed restrictions on certain “adult live performances” with steep penalties and vague language that have already caused cancellation of drag shows and Pride events for fear of unscrupulous enforcement. This inserts the government in place of parents’ ability to determine what content may be suitable for their families
The far-right’s obsession with drag queens has put LGBTQ people in physical danger across the country, but especially in Florida. In 2022 alone, the LGBTQ media organization GLAAD found 141 incidents of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting drag events. Right-wing media like Fox News and Libs Of TikTok have misrepresented what occurs at drag events and taken examples out of context to create fear and misunderstanding. This has had real world consequences, with protests and threats of violence against venues hosting drag shows.
In Florida, Orlando organizers were forced to cancel Drag Queen story hour due to threats from Neo-Nazis. This last December in Lakeland, masked individuals in Nazi gear, waving Nazi flags ambushed a charity event hosted by drag queens while projecting hateful messages onto local buildings. Attacks on the arts are an age-old authoritarian tactic designed to use culture to divide communities and target marginalized groups. These moves by the Governor and the legislature threaten to stifle artistic expression in Florida and induce a chilling effect on drag performances and Pride celebrations.
Assaults on Business
DeSantis signed a bill that restricts businesses from providing diversity and inclusion training to their employees, a blatant attempt to dictate to businesses what they can and cannot do, and to prevent them from training their employees to be better prepared for a diverse workforce and customer base
The Florida legislature has weaponized state agencies with more power to politically target LGBTQ-friendly businesses who open their doors to live drag performances, with threats of fines, license revocation, and jail time. Individuals that admit minors with an accompanying parent would be charged with first degree misdemeanor crimes.
The governor has repeatedly pitted the state legislature against businesses that stand with their LGBTQ employees and clients and against his agenda, most notably wielding two special sessions of the legislature to punish Disney, the state’s largest single-site employer, and continuing to push baseless legislation in the recent legislative session to do so
The Miami Herald recently reported that DeSantis-controlled agencies sought to punish and revoke the liquor license of an Orlando establishment that hosted a live drag performance even after the state’s own investigators reported that they saw nothing “lewd”. The discriminatory targeting of LGBTQ-friendly businesses by the state will have a broader chilling effect over drag performances, an intended consequence of this type of censorship.
Disney has also recently denounced the governor’s actions against them, with CEO Bob Iger calling the state’s policies “anti-business and anti-Florida.” Their lawsuit alleging political retaliation for protected speech was filed in April and expanded in May.
These laws and actions are both unconstitutional and harmful to businesses and their employees, as they undermine efforts to create inclusive workplaces and hinder the ability to effectively engage with diverse customers and clients. It also sends a message that Florida is not a welcoming state for people from all backgrounds and that discrimination is acceptable.
Efforts to Foment Racial Prejudice
Florida has passed a law that limits the honest teaching of history and systemic racism in schools; it has deemed any training or instruction to be “discrimination” if it raises concerns over concepts like inherent privilege, unconscious bias, or unconscious racism
The state passed another that restricts voting access for people of color and broadly restricts access to the ballot box
DeSantis’ new elections police have abused their power to aggressively target and prosecute returning citizens, mostly Black Floridians, for voting after official government entities told them they were eligible to vote
These laws create an unwelcoming and hostile environment for LGBTQ individuals, women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. They send a message that discrimination and prejudice are acceptable in Florida, and those considering travel or relocation should consider the risks associated with a state that is openly hostile to their basic human rights. This has led national civil rights organizations the NAACP and LULAC issuing travel advisories of their own.
As a result of these dangerous and discriminatory laws, we urge individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and students to make informed decisions about potential travel plans to Florida and to consider the impact that their travel and economic choices can have on promoting equality and justice for all.
Repealing of Gun Safety Laws
The passage of deadly permitless carry makes Floridians less safe and signals the reversal of the progress made after the massacres at Pulse and Parkland. Coupled with the state’s infamous Stand Your Ground law, Permitless Carry threatens to exacerbate Florida’s violent crime rate at a time when the state’s homicide rate ranks 20th in the nation, exceeding both California and New York.
LGBTQ Floridians know all too well that the gun lobby's obsession with easy access to deadly weapons can make hatred and bigotry lethal. Gun violence is not abstract or hypothetical -- it is stealing our loved ones. Those considering travel to Florida should weigh the potentially deadly consequences of the DeSantis Administration’s decision to eliminate basic training and permitting requirements in order to concealed carry a firearm, and that decision’s impact when combined with efforts to encourage harassment and discrimination against marginalized communities.
Attacks on Immigrant Communities
Florida has passed legislation targeting immigrant communities, with consequences that include reduced access to health care services, compromised safety, and potential felony arrest for accompanying an undocumented immigrant into the state. And these moves come just months after Governor DeSantis trafficked migrants from Texas to Massachusetts in a cruel scheme to use their suffering as campaign marketing material. That relocation program received an additional $12 million during the legislative session.
The threats posed to immigrants in Florida led the Florida Immigrant Coalition to issue its own advisory urging reconsideration of any travel to the state. That advisory can be found here.
Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose significant risk to the health and safety of many considering relocation and/or temporary travel to the state. We deeply regret that these attacks have already led LGBTQ families and others to flee the state and are driving more to consider relocation. 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 of the risks associated with travel to the state.
Our message remains the same: whether you select Florida as your destination or not, consider how you can engage more deeply in the fight against the state’s all-out assaults on democracy and freedom. We are heartened to see those local communities in Florida that have been on the forefront of building inclusive communities for decades are looking for ways to mitigate the harm being done. Consider supporting LGBTQ-owned and allied businesses, including those in our OpenDoorsFlorida.org directory, who have long been the backbone of our communities. Partner with LGBTQ organizations to increase your impact on those most directly feeling the impacts of these policy assaults. Make your presence in Florida, or lack thereof, a statement of support for marginalized communities on the ground.
This moment calls for a grassroots movement in defense of justice and equality for all -- so that we can turn back the tide of right wing authoritarianism, recommit to building a state that is safe and open to all, and once again celebrate Florida as a free state.