‘It’s a scary time for us’: Florida Pride organizers on edge amid safety fears | Florida

Kristina Bozanich knew that this year’s Pride month event in the central Florida town of St Cloud would have to be modified to comply with a new law approved by Governor Ron DeSantis last month. One in a series of bills signed by DeSantis this year that escalated his assault on LGBTQ+ rights, the Protection of Children Act prohibits minors from attending “sexually explicit performances” and authorizes the punishment of businesses that knowingly allow children to attend such events by issuing fines and suspending or revoking their alcohol licenses.

The inaugural Pride month event that Bozanich organized in St Cloud last year featured an open-air parade and a drag show performance. This year, the 30-year-old photographer had scheduled a private event on 10 June at a gym that would once again include a drag show and would be open only to adults who had bought tickets in advance.

News of the Protection of Children law and the appearance of a road sign in the nearby Orlando neighborhood of Lake Nona that read “kill all gays” prompted all four drag show performers to cancel their appearances. That forced Bozanich to scrap the event altogether.

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A Pride parade in Orlando last year. Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

“That [sign] was very shocking to members of our community,” said Bozanich. “The performers felt they could be made an example of in some way, and we couldn’t ensure their security.”

The passage of similar laws targeting drag performances in other Republican-controlled state legislatures has cast a pall over this year’s Pride celebrations, including in Texas, Montana and Arkansas. Organizers in Tennessee are awaiting a federal judge’s ruling on the constitutionality of a law passed by the state legislature in March that places restrictions on where “adult cabaret” can be staged.

A drag show scheduled to take place this week at Nellis air force base in Nevada was canceled on short notice after Department of Defense officials advised organizers that the performance would contradict the defense secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent congressional testimony that the Pentagon would not fund such events.

Meanwhile, brands are navigating rightwing attacks on LGBTQ+ people, in the wake of a boycott against Bud Light for working with the trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Target announced the removal of some Pride items from its shelves last month after some of its employees received threats that affected their “sense of safety and wellbeing while at work”.

A coalition of more than 100 LGTBQ+ organizations responded by issuing a statement this week calling on Target and the business community to “reject and speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ extremism going into Pride Month”. (In its statement announcing the withdrawal of Pride-related merchandise, Target did reaffirm its “continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community”.)

But with DeSantis having officially launched a presidential campaign last month, the spotlight remains on Florida. His administration foreshadowed the introduction and eventual passage of the Protection of Children Act when it filed a complaint last March seeking to revoke the liquor license of a Hyatt Regency hotel in Miami last March, after it hosted a Christmas drag queen show where children were reportedly among the audience.

A month later, a Pride parade scheduled in the seaside city of Port St Lucie was canceled and attendance at related events was restricted to adults at least 21 years old after organizers and local officials reached an agreement to scale back the festivities.

This year’s annual Tampa Pride festival went ahead as scheduled in the Gulf coast city on 25 March, but organizers recently decided to cancel a Pride on the River celebration slated for the fall after some sponsors expressed concerns over the outdoor setting.

“A parade with drag queens on boats or a public stage can’t be fenced off,” explained Carrie West, a retired businessman and president of the Tampa Pride organization. “It’s a very scary time for the LGBTQ+ community with the political climate right now. With DeSantis running for president, he wants to make a name for himself by campaigning against us.”

A deputy press secretary for the Florida governor declined an interview request from the Guardian. But on the day DeSantis signed into law five bills that will, among other actions, target the use of appropriate pronouns in school and prohibit minors from undergoing gender-affirming surgeries and obtaining puberty blocking medication, DeSantis said Florida “is proud to lead the way in standing up for our children. As the world goes mad, Florida is a refuge of sanity and a citadel for normalcy.” Last year, the governor signed a “don’t say gay” bill that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to children between kindergarten and third grade.

According to Equality Florida, the state’s premier advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights, the Sunshine state is home to an estimated 886,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary people 13 years of age or older. They represent about 5% of Florida’s workforce and 4.6% of the state’s adult population.

At a time when the NAACP has issued a travel advisory warning that “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals”, some people are voting with their feet.

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Items for sale at a Target near Tampa on Wednesday. Photograph: Robin Rayne/Zuma Press Wire/Shutterstock

Kristina Bozanich knows of a family living in St Cloud with a transgender child who will be fleeing the Sunshine state and one adult who has paused his gender transition and will be moving to California in 2024. “And I have other friends who have confirmed they will no longer visit Florida,” she adds.

But many more members of Florida’s besieged LGBTQ+ community are moving ahead with plans to celebrate Pride month and assert their gender identities. Led by Mayor Kenneth Welch, the city of St Petersburg kicked off a series of events with a flag-raising ceremony on Thursday and will hold three days of festivities during the last weekend of June. These will include a Friday night concert, a parade and a Sunday street fair.

In a similar vein, south Florida’s longest-running Pride parade will be held in the Fort Lauderdale suburb Wilton Manors on 17 June, and events are planned at the Perez Art Museum Miami and a Fort Lauderdale theater.

One of Florida’s first openly gay lawmakers welcomes the forthright affirmation of his community’s existence and future in some of the state’s largest metropolitan areas. “We’re hearing that, more often than not, our Pride events are going forward, regardless of the political environment,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a senior policy adviser at Equality Florida who served three terms in the Florida house of representatives between 2016 and 2022.

“People are understanding that raising their flag high and proudly is an important act of political resistance. They aren’t allowing themselves to be bullied out of continuing their Pride festivities as usual.”

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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