This article first appeared in The Advocate.
Florida’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group issued on Wednesday a travel advisory recommending against queer visitors to the Sunshine State.
The advisory warns “Florida may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence.”
“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,” said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida's executive director.
The move comes as Florida appears poised to pass a bevy of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Those include an expansion of Florida’s so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law, attacks on businesses that host drag shows, and a ban on gender-reaffirming care for trans youth. The advisory notes attacks by lawmakers on medical and academic freedom, erasure of LGBTQ history in schools, and assaults on LGBTQ-friendly businesses including Disney, the state’s largest employer.
A travel advisory seems to signal a boycott on the way, similar to effective commercial strategies following anti-trans legislation in Texas in 2017 and North Carolina in 2016. But this move in Florida comes as state legislatures across the country take up a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
Smith said it gave her no joy to tell LGBTQ+ visitors to steer clear of Florida. But just as heartbreaking is the number of families who already chose to leave.
“While losing conferences, and top students who have written off Florida threatens lasting damage to our state, it is most heartbreaking to hear from parents who are selling their homes and moving because school censorship, book bans and health care restrictions have made their home state less safe for their children,” Smith said.
“We understand everyone must weigh the risks and decide what is best for their safety, but whether you stay away, leave or remain we ask that you join us in countering these relentless attacks. Help reimagine and build a Florida that is truly safe for and open to all, and where freedom is a reality, not a hollow campaign slogan.”
The advisory said Florida just isn’t a safe environment for queer people now, not just because of the bills under consideration but thanks to the loosening of gun laws. It also said Gov. Ron DeSantis has fomented an environment of racial prejudice.
Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, the first out Senator elected in Florida, noted this advisory comes weeks after a similar one from the NAACP urging Black Americans to avoid Florida.
“It's a sad reality in Florida that our elected leaders in power are pushing laws that make Florida unfriendly towards minority communities — from the Black to LGBTQ community,” he said.
Jones added: “Our history and presence should be protected, but these policies are not what we're seeing out of the Florida Legislature. It's an unfortunate state of affairs when we see these travel advisories — but that's the current state of this state. Me and my Democratic colleagues are pushing as hard as we can to make Florida friendly to these vulnerable groups and I hope my colleagues will change their minds on these bills that push negative and harmful rhetoric towards my community.”