Positive Living: I Ain’t Going Anywhere

These days in the dystopian nightmare we call Florida, it seems like many of us queer folks are pulling up our stakes and heading for (bluer) pastures. My heart has broken as beautiful LGBTQ+ families disappear from the Florida landscape.

I remember doing a story for this publication a couple of years ago where I met a lovely family of two women and their two children who lived in Sarasota. One woman carried both boys to term and was their biological mother, while the father was a friend who was a part of the boys’ lives as an “uncle.”

The first boy was born in Maryland and the partner had had no problem adopting him as a second parent. The partner even legally changed her last name so everyone in the family shared it. But when his brother was born here in Florida, the state made it extremely difficult for the second parent adoption because the couple was gay — at the time, Florida didn’t allow same-sex parent adoption.

The two had already spent over $10,000 and were afraid they would need to leave lucrative careers to move to a state where they could all legally be recognized as a family. While Florida’s adoption rules have since improved, it seems to me that the Republican party of so called “family values” does everything in their power to break our families apart.

If I had a trans child, for example, there is no way I would subject them to the fascist hate we have masquerading as a state government. I get it. I’m scared too. With the nonsense coming out of Tallahassee I’m just waiting for an overly zealous MAGAite to suggest we put all gay and trans people in separate “ghettos,” that way we can’t corrupt their precious little spoiled monster children and we’d be “happier with our own kind.”

Impossible? No, that’s exactly what the Nazi party did to Jewish people, and homosexuals, in 1933 Germany. You are dangerously fooling yourself if you think it can’t happen here.

Then we have in our tourist-driven state respected organizations like the NAACP and Equality Florida outright telling LGBTQ+ visitors they can’t guarantee their safety. Who has money to burn? LGBTQ+ visitors. And without them, Florida — especially in gay friendly cities like St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando and Gulfport — tourist dollars start to drop.

I understand these warnings, too. I’d be embarrassed and a bit frightened to recommend a visit to such a hostile territory.

Florida will learn that there are plenty of other places in the U.S. more than willing to roll out the rainbow carpet. LGBTQ+ visitors with money who have their choice of travel destinations will simply bypass the fascist mess here and chose more inviting places to spend their dollars.

It seems like a real page from the Ron DeSantis playbook. Make it so uncomfortable and so uninviting to queers that we all just leave, letting them “deal with the gay issue” once and for all.

One problem, though. I’m here. I’m queer and I ain’t goin’ anywhere.

I just recently celebrated my 40th anniversary as a Floridian. I’ve poured my heart and soul and the majority of my adult life into this state. I’ve been here through hurricanes and droughts. I’ve been here through heatwaves and freezes, real estate bubbles and the messy goo left over when they pop. I worked to help bring baseball to St. Petersburg and a few years later I had the immense of honor of helping to found St Pete Pride.

With my wonderful queer compatriots, we drug St. Pete out of the doldrums of a sleepy little retirement community and transformed the city into a vibrant, cool, chic gay mecca. To say I’m “invested” in being a Floridian is probably an understatement.

This is my home. I’ll be damned if I let some deranged fascist lunatics chase me away. I’m staying and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m boosting up the social activism.

Let’s turn this around and make them uncomfortable. Speak out loudly and often wherever you think it might make a difference. Show up at school board meetings. There will be protests and demonstrations. Show up and support these endeavors. Call or email state representatives every time some new horrific law denying rights to queers is passed. Get others to do the same.

While I encourage you to be bold and outspoken in your civil disobedience, a word of caution. Violence is never justified and gets us nowhere. If we resort to violence, we are worse than the people we are fighting. Make it effective but keep it peaceful, dear friends.

I’m committed to resistance. Fellow queer Floridians, with this column I am issuing a call for you to join me. Let “We’re here. We’re queer. And we ain’t goin anywhere” be our mantra. It would make a great chant at a demonstration. Together we will survive these dark times.

Greg Stemm is a longtime resident of Pinellas County and a founder of St Pete Pride. He is an outspoken activist on many issues, including HIV/AIDS education.

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