Florida laws targeting the LGBT community fuel the energy of Pride, organizers say

By Brad Brooks and Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Organizers of some LGBT Pride events in Florida are limiting access for minors and increasing security in the face of a raft of new state laws they say unfairly target their community.

But organizers say the laws are rekindling a defiant energy that they hope will help push back Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who announced his run for president on Wednesday, and other conservative leaders.

“The most important message from Pride this year is that we all show unity, family and togetherness,” said Jeff Sterling, organizer of Stonewall Pride at Wilton Manors, which asks performers and parade-goers to avoid nudity or outrageous behavior. .

Florida is at the center of an American war of words and legislation over values ​​and beliefs. DeSantis signed a package of bills this month that he says is aimed at protecting children. They include laws banning gender reassignment surgeries for minors, imposing fines on companies that allow children to participate in “explicit” drag performances, and banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity until the eighth grade.

In response to a request for comment for this article, DeSantis’ office sent an email saying it would not respond to any “baseless allegations” linking the laws to hostility and violence toward the LGBT community. He added that the governor “will continue to do the right thing and protect the innocence of children.”

Critics say the drag performance law was unnecessary, arguing the state already had laws against exposing children to lewd entertainment. They argue that it was built specifically to target Pride, by prohibiting local governments from issuing permits for any event that could expose children to lewd “live adult performance.”

“We are telling people not to run, not to hide. That’s what the fans want,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida and a former Democratic state representative running for state senate.

Kristina Bozanich said she was forced to cancel a small Pride event she was hosting outside Orlando after drag performers who were to headline her festival pulled out, citing fears about new state laws.

He also did not have the funds to pay for the increased security he felt was necessary.

But Tiffany Freisberg, head of the St. Pete Pride board that organizes Florida’s largest Pride parade and other events throughout June in St. Petersburg, said canceling was never considered. No event or performance, either this year or in the past, she argued, would violate lewd laws.

“The new laws have a very real ripple effect of fear in our communities,” he said. “But that’s why events like ours are more important than ever.”

Joseph Clark, executive director of Gay Days in Orlando, which takes participants on tours of Disney World and hosts drag performances, pool parties and other events, said his plans didn’t change and he hoped people LGBTs from outside of Florida make a special point to attend Pride events. in the state this year.

“When people come to Pride events, that unity and coming together creates a layer of safety for our community and shows that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Clark said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Editing by Donna Bryson and Mark Porter)