Illegal new laws are making Pride in Florida this year a delicate matter of what is legal, what is right, and what is safe.
Cities and counties seeking permits for Pride fairs and Pride fests are meeting community council members who go over the content of their events with a fine-tooth comb, with scrutiny aligning with the state’s illegal new laws banning drag performance, a freedom of speech violation.
Technically, the law bans public drag performance that is “sexual” in nature or visible to children, but the law was written to be intentionally vague. In the little city of Sebring, Florida, a “bearded lady” costume contest nearly got the entire pride celebration canceled.
“Is that not really another name for a drag queen show?” Sebring City Council Member Terry Mendel asked Highlands County LGBT+ Caucus directors during a May 16 public meeting about the celebration.
“It does seem to me that this is going to result in inappropriate displays of sexuality in front of our children, so I’m very concerned about that,” Mendel said, despite being told that the contest would be a 21+ event and not sexual in nature, made smaller and bland to avoid getting everything shut down by bigots like Mendel.
Mendel’s remark, which mirrors anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that often baselessly implies a link between drag and child abuse, is an example of the kind of talking points, partly fueled by the recently enacted Florida policies, that are creating stumbling blocks for Pride event organizers in communities large and small across the state.
“We don’t agree with the legislation out there, but we’ll navigate it,” said Jeffrey Schoop, executive consultant for the organizers. “It’s not that we’re about self-censoring, but we’re trying to throw the best event within the confines of how we need to act under the new laws.”
Organizers are also struggling to deal with the potential impact of violence, as the state’s new laws have inflamed anti-LGBT and specifically anti-trans sentiments to dangerous heights. In St Cloud, for instance, this month’s Pride Event was canceled in fear for the safety of organizers and participants.
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