Anyone paying attention to Florida politics knows the ringer we’ve been put through this past year.
From circus shows at local school board meetings to the hostile takeover of New College to the implementation of draconian laws, Florida has served as a microcosm of how anti-LGBTQ+ conservatives aim to reshape our nation and society toward hate and exclusion.
It’s no secret that our school boards have experienced a near-continuous crisis for the last year — and in communities like Sarasota, shamefully hypocritical board members like Bridget Ziegler scapegoat and dehumanize the LGBTQ+ community while engaging in same-sex activities behind closed doors.
From bigoted individuals loudly attacking openly-LGBTQ+ electeds to the abrupt removal of staff, educators, guidelines, and policies, so-called “leaders” have created chaos in institutions of great respect, all while failing to live up to the radical standards they themselves seek to impose. All of it has been cheered on and inflamed by hate groups like Moms for Liberty (which the scandalized Zieglers created) and other anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. This right-wing hysteria is fueled from the top — whipped into a frenzy by those who benefit from fanning these flames of hate.
We have a governor who likes to call us the “free state” of Florida but is at war with freedom. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t criminalize health care. Free states don’t censor history. There is no freedom in government dictating what we can wear, what we can read and who we can be.
Parental rights are under assault. The governor and his allies claim to be champions of “parental rights” while they strip parents of the rights to access life-saving medical care for their children, send their kids to schools they feel safe and included, and decide what entertainment is appropriate for their own families. Instead of allowing parents to decide what books they want their children to access, a small group of hypocritical extremists declare that any book they disagree with is “pornographic.”
The DeSantis administration is torching Florida’s reputation nationally, and it’s costing all of us. The governor’s agenda of censorship, book banning and whitewashing of history is destroying Florida’s image, driving away top talent. Our state has grown synonymous with attacks on LGBTQ+ people, reproductive rights, honest American history, the arts and more. This extreme agenda is about one thing: feeding his hopeless presidential ambitions.
Meanwhile, government is being weaponized against Floridians with the politicization of state agencies. This all-out assault on LGBTQ+ people, the likes of which we have not seen since the days of Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign, is designed to manufacture right-wing outrage that the governor can leverage in his desperate bid to outflank the former White House occupant for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Florida was once on a path toward a bright, progressive future. I remember the days when this state felt like a departure from our more conservative neighbors in this region. Florida once even led the way, pulling ahead of the federal government at times. Just in 2015, Equality Florida fought and succeeded in winning marriage equality right here in our state six months before SCOTUS legalized it nationwide!
Flash forward to 2023 where Floridians saw the most overtly anti-LGBTQ+ session in our legislature’s history. Just recently, Charlotte County even made national headlines for implementing the removal of all books with LGBTQ+ characters in all grade levels.
Our state population comprises only 6.5% of the country, but a recent report shows that Florida accounts for more than 40% of the school book bans in the U.S. Nearly half. A third of these books included characters of color and racial themes, and another third represented LGBTQ+ identities, so this is not just about queer people. Coalition building with other marginalized communities is going to be critical in the fight against this.
We cannot risk another all-out legislative assault on our community this year. We cannot allow another legislative session where the “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” law, the anti-drag law the anti-trans bathroom law, bans on gender-affirming care, and the six-week abortion ban are allowed to move forward.
Equality Florida will always advocate for the rights and dignity of all Floridians and will hold those responsible accountable for their attacks on our fundamental human rights. But in anticipation of another damaging legislative session for LGBTQ+ people, we need your help in our mission.
We are mobilizing people from all over the state for our Pride at the Capitol program, which kicks off on Jan. 16 and 17 in Tallahassee. We are not backing down, we are proudly showing up and we are fighting back. We are activating Floridians to travel to Tallahassee, meet with state lawmakers and rally for LGBTQ+ rights to make our voices heard. I encourage — no, I implore you to join us there.
Whether you can join us for the program kickoff or not, Equality Florida’s team will be in Tallahassee throughout the 60-day legislative session. Whenever you are able to join us, we will find a place for you to fight alongside us. Together, we must do everything to defend our fundamental rights and freedoms. Showing up when they try to dehumanize us, either to share our stories or to hold them accountable, is our strongest tool in this fight.
Nicholas Machuca is the deputy director of development for Equality Florida, the statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. He lives in Tampa and works all over Florida on LGBTQ+ equality. Visit EqualityFlorida.org/PATC to join the resistance.