As It Happens

As some Florida groups cancel Pride over new laws, others 'refuse to submit'

A small-town Florida Pride organization says it will carry out its festivities as planned this summer, despite a slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation that has other organizations toning down their Pride events, or cancelling them altogether.

Slew of anti-LGBTQ laws have Pride organisers on edge — especially one targeting drag performances

A woman in a rainbow headband holds up a fan and shouts amid a crowds of protesters, some dressed in drag, and all wearing red.
Supporters of the drag community protest against Florida's 'Protection of Children' bill, which prohibits 'explicit' drag performances in front of children. Critics say the law is vaguely worded, and unnecessary, as Florida already has laws protecting minors from lewd content. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

A small-town Pride organization is refusing to cower in the face of Florida laws that target LGBTQ people. 

Several organizations in Florida have cancelled their Pride events this summer, fearing legal repercussions and violent backlash after Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills.

But the Lake County Pride Organization says its inaugural celebrations will go on.

"Gov. DeSantis is trying to completely eradicate us from society. And these laws are designed to stoke fear and to basically make us retreat, make us go back into the closet, not celebrate our community, not honour our community," Lake County Pride president Danielle Olivani told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"It's all about fear and control, and we just refuse to submit to that."

CBC has reached out to the governor's office for comment. 

'Slate of hate'

Earlier this month, DeSantis signed into effect a series of bills that he says are designed to protect children, but which critics have dubbed the "slate of hate."

They include a ban on gender-affirming health-care for minors, restrictions on which pronouns and bathrooms transgender people can use, and a law imposing fines on businesses that allow children to view "explicit" drag shows.

A crowd of smiling people in rainbow clothes smiles and watches a parade from behind a metal barrier.
Revellers celebrate during the Tampa Pride Parade in March of this year. Tampa Pride has cancelled its upcoming Pride on the River event because of Florida's new slate of anti-LGBTQ laws. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The latter is particularly tricky for Pride organizers. Drag — a type of exaggerated gender performance with deep roots in LGBTQ communities — is often featured prominently at Pride events. 

Critics of the law view it as an attack on the LGBTQ community — and Pride, specifically — as Florida already had legislation protecting minors from lewd content.

"I believe that we need to stand with our community now more than ever. We need to stand together and speak out collectively against this biased, unconstitutional legislation prohibiting drag entertainers," Olivani said.

"There's nothing inherently lascivious or lewd about our community, and we should be able to assemble just as anyone else assembles."

'We didn't want to take any chances'

But some Pride organizers say the new laws and the rhetoric that comes with them make it unsafe to celebrate this summer. 

Kristina Bozanich told Reuters she was forced to cancel a small Pride event she was organizing in St. Cloud, Fla., after drag show performers meant to headline her festival backed out, citing fears over the new state laws. She said she lacked the fund to boost security. 

"We believe that holding an LGBTQIA+ event in this environment would put our community at risk. We hope that you understand our decision," her group said on Facebook

A crowd of protesters on the street, some sporting costumes and others holding rainbow flags. One person holds a sign that reads: "Ban DeSantis, Not Books!"
People protest outside the Four Seasons Hotel as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis participates in a Twitter Space event to publicly announce his run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Tampa Pride also cancelled its upcoming Pride on the River event.

"We didn't want to take any chances," Tampa Pride president Carrie West told the Tampa Bay Times. "We are afraid if we did go through with this, [DeSantis] would come in with his Gestapo... not Tampa Police, because we're working with them, but maybe another group, and they'd all just pull the plug on it."

In response to a request for comment from Reuters about Pride cancellations, the governor's office said in an email that it would not respond to any "baseless accusations" linking laws to hostility and violence toward the LGBTQ community. 

It added that the governor "will continue to do what is right and protect the innocence of children."

DeSantis announced last week that he's running to be the Republican U.S. presidential candidate.

WATCH | DeSantis runs for president:

Trump challenger DeSantis announces GOP nomination run

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has officially entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination. DeSantis is considered one of the front-runners along with former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Proceeding with caution

Many of the Pride events that do take place this summer will feature beefed-up security and toned-down performances. 

The Lake County Pride Organization is fully expecting protesters, Olivani said, and is working with local police to protect attendees. 

Olivani said they're working with performers to make sure the event doesn't violate the state's new drag law, which prohibits "exposing children to an adult live performance," including performances that feature "lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts."

"Of course, I have the utmost faith in my performers to abide by the guidelines. But obviously we had to have a conversation about clothing choice, song choice," they said.

"So, yes, we are working within the guidelines to avoid any sort of problems, but definitely are standing strong and defying the law."

Similarly, Jeff Sterling, organizer of Stonewall Pride in Wilton Manors, Fla., has asked performers and parade goers to avoid nudity or risqué behaviour.

"The most important message of this year's Pride is that we all show unity and family and togetherness," Sterling said. 

Pride has its roots in protest, and some Florida organizers say it's never been more important to march and celebrate. 

Tiffany Freisberg, head of the St. Pete Pride board that organizes Florida's biggest Pride parade and other events all through June in St. Petersburg, said cancelling was never considered. 

"The new laws have a very real ripple effect of fear on our communities," she said. "But that's why events like ours are more important than ever."

Olivani agrees.

"I want to give our community hope that we stand in solidarity," Olivani said. "We're standing up to, you know, the fascist laws that have been put in place to restrict our community."

With files from Reuters. Interview with Danielle Olivani produced by Chris Trowbridge

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