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What to do about Florida?
We publishers get many invitations. One invitation that surprised me this week seemed to be a plea for normalcy in these troubling times often labeled a culture war. Spoiler alert: the invitation came from what has become the front lines of this culture war: Florida, the state that its governor, Ron Desantis, proudly says “is where woke goes to die.”
That vague term “woke” represents among other issues, book banning, censorship on Black history, the war on women’s health issues, the fight against Trans health, and attempting to literally erase LGBTQ+ issues by enacting laws like “Don’t Say Gay.” Adding a strange twist to all this are Desantis’s intense emotions against The Walt Disney Company, the largest employer in his state, which has tried to take a more moderate view of LGBTQ+ rights. In short, Florida is not a place to feel comfortable.
Now back to that invitation. It came from an organization from Tampa, Florida and requested my presence to be at a reception. Just reading it made me wonder why they would invite the publisher of an LGBTQ+ newspaper. Was it a mistake? Did they just find my email on a media list? Or was it an attempt to try and normalize Florida to the LGBTQ+ community?
Obviously, I put the invitation in my trash. That caused me and my husband Jason to wonder how deep our convictions are and how much we should make a statement about what is happening in that state. It’s a state that, despite its treatment in the media, houses thousands upon thousands of LGBTQ+ people who merely want to live their lives in peace.
Should we as a community boycott Florida? That idea has been floated by LGBTQ+ organizations in Florida, including Equality Florida, which called for a travel advisory, warning LGBTQ+ people from coming or relocating to the state. Florida, like Texas, has become problematic for everyone from families with LGBTQ+ children to LGBTQ+ people seeking abortions to trans people simply hoping for basic health care. Is a boycott really the right move here?
It’s been amazing to watch how the LGBTQ+ community in Ft. Lauderdale has grown and created an LGBTQ+-friendly city over the years. Do we punish them for that incredible turnaround by taking our dollars from all those LGBTQ+ owned and operated businesses? What about the great cultural institutions including The Stonewall National Museum and Archives or LGBTQ+ community centers?
We need to support our community and at the same time find a way to make a statement. Aside from supporting the numerous organizations on the ground in Florida, personally, I’ve decided that I’ll only go to places in Florida where they have demonstrated strong support for our community. That translates to treating us with equality. My understanding would leave only two destinations, Ft. Lauderdale and Disney World. It also would mean staying only in LGBTQ+-owned B and B’s and hotels, as well as going to LGBTQ+ restaurants.
While the reality is that unless there is an absolutely great reason to go to Florida, I won’t be heading there. But I’m sure I will in the future, and when I do, it’ll be as LGBTQ+-centric as can possibly be, especially regarding the places I give my business to. I’m not advocating for a formal boycott, but I understand that they can be powerful. Remember North Carolina during its era of bathroom bills in 2016? Those anti-LGBTQ+ actions cost the state over 3.7 billion dollars in lost revenue and the backlash led to compromises in legislation. Can the same thing happen in Florida? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: LGBTQ+ Floridians deserve the same equal rights as all of us, and we have to deploy as many tactics as we can to improve their lives.
Mark Segal is the owner and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.