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Washington Blade: LGBTQ News, Politics, LGBTQ Rights, Gay News: Should gay retirees flee anti-LGBTQ repression in Florida?

It’s been three years since I retired and formally transferred residency to a condo in Wilton Manors, Fla., spending seven months in the warmer climes of South Florida and five months in my condo in Logan Circle. Initially, the LGBTQ environment of Wilton Manors and Washington, D.C. paired well. This year, everything changed in Florida with the passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican super-majority in the state legislature. During the spring Florida legislative session, I joined volunteers from Equality Florida and the Dolphin Democrats lobbying on behalf of our community.

There is no way of sugar coating the perilous times that we Floridians (and Americans living elsewhere) are experiencing, for the LGBTQ community and for supporters of our constitutional democracy. These bills in the state House and Senate are draconian: “Criminalizing Gender Affirming Care” bill for transgender youth (SB254), “Don’t Say Gay LGBTQ Expansion” bill (HB1223), “MAGA Takeover of Higher Ed” bill (HB 999), and there are others.

I find it difficult to fathom why a parent providing healthcare to their child would be labeled a child abuser and have the child removed from custody of that parent and why any health-related professional would be charged with a felony (think medical doctor, nurse practitioner, counselor, pharmacist). One courageous Democratic legislator asked the author of this bill why a parent providing permission for a blood transfusion, for example, to save a child’s life but in opposition to a joint custody parent, who for religious reasons objects to the treatment, is not deemed a child abuser nor are medical staff charged with a felony in the latter example. The response was inadequate and insulting to one’s intelligence.

LGBTQ youth have a right to access books affirming their families and their sexual identification. Parents have the right to be open about their LGBTQ families as do straight families; 56% of LGBTQ parents have considered moving out of state and 71% of LGBTQ youth say state laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ young people negatively impacted their mental health. This is an attempt to erase the members of LGBTQ families and push them back into the closet.

The MAGA Takeover of Higher Education bill prohibits public universities and colleges spending regardless of source, on programs “that espouse diversity, equity and inclusion,” which help LGBTQ and minority students thrive. This bill would defund and effectively eliminate multi-cultural student centers, Black student unions and Pride centers not required by federal law.

I did hear that some of the Republicans are uncomfortable with some of these bills but because they have been coerced by the governor to support his agenda, that they have no other option but to be in lockstep with their party (does this playbook sound familiar?).

What is the current political climate to stop these bills from passage? Terrible! The Republicans enjoy a super-majority standing. The Democrats on various committees that discussed these bills have tried to attach amendments to lessen the harsh impact but their amendments failed.

Courageous LGBTQ youth, parents, adults and allies of the LGBTQ community provided verbal testimony that was absolutely heart wrenching. In some cases, the Republican chairs of these committees limited testimony to just 30 seconds! 

Now that I am back in D.C. for the summer and celebrating Pride month, I am thankful that Capital Pride can provide me emotional respite. But I will be thinking of my friends and community in South Florida who will be celebrating Pride in Wilton Manors. The mayor and City Commissioners are moving ahead with plans for full participation by all members of the LGBTQ community, drag queens, too, in Pride celebrations. But there is trepidation also that DeSantis may be looking for an opportunity to replace the Wilton Manors Mayor and City Commissioners for a perceived violation of the newly passed legislation.

You may be pondering next steps. Some may speculate that it is time to move out of state. But where do you think you can move? This playbook is already being replicated in other states and there are more in the offing. We have to organize and fight for our rights and those of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and our LGBTQ+ allies. We have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the present as well as in the future. The choice is ours to make. 

John E. Lazar is former Ward 2 committeeman to the D.C. Democratic State Committee and past financial resource director of the Florida Democratic LGBTQ Caucus.

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