Wilton Manors, Florida – long known as one of the most LGBTQ+-inclusive cities in America – has fallen prey to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
A recent vote by the city commission declared that permits for this year’s June 17 Pride parade will direct the organization behind the event, Stonewall Pride, to anticipate the need to comply with a state bill seeking to ban public drag performances. It has already passed the legislature, and DeSantis is expected to sign it.
S.B. 1438 prohibits government entities from issuing permits to organizations that may hold “adult live performances” in the presence of minors. The bill defines “adult live performance” as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities… lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”
While it does not specifically mention drag, Republican politicians across the country have increasingly targeted drag performances and family-friendly events like drag queen story hours, characterizing them as sexually explicit adult entertainment.
“Even though the plain text of the bill may not say ‘drag,’” said Florida state Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D), “there’s a greater context happening here, and we all know it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the bill “an extreme governmental overreach of power.”
According to South Florida Gay News, over a dozen people spoke before the commission advocating for the city to ignore the bill.
“The laws are just unjust,” one speaker said. “We are entertainers. We are emcees. We are comedians in our culture, not criminals.”
“We are not safe in Florida, but we stay here,” said Broward County Human Rights Board chair Michael Rajner. “Some of us are going to stay here and fight. We hope we have enough Democrats that are registered that will vote and we can start stemming that tide.”
The commission expressed sympathy for the LGBTQ+ community but, finding itself in a tight spot, ultimately voted against its interests. Officials that do not enforce state law are at risk of being removed by the governor. As such, failing to enforce the law could result in the commission being fully replaced with DeSantis appointees.
“We’re proud to have drag queens and the transgender community come and walk and ride in floats down Wilton Drive. And that’s not going to change, not on our watch,” said Mayor Scott Newton.
Jeff Stirling, CEO of Stonewall Pride, emphasized that losing the battle does not mean losing the war: “We may be constrained by the narrowest interpretation of the law today but that does not dissuade us from our long-term fight against injustice against our community.”
Stirling said the organization is hoping to at least have a parade float featuring drag entertainers since merely waving to the crowd wouldn’t count as a performance.
Wilton Manors is not the only Florida city confronting the realities of this potential new law. In April, city officials in Port St. Lucie fully canceled its Pride Parade in anticipation of DeSantis signing the bill into law.
DeSantis has supported several anti-LGBTQ+ policies under the guise of “protecting children” from “sexualization,” including book bans and the infamous Don’t Say Gay law.
Just last week, he signed a bill allowing doctors to discriminate against LGBTQ+ patients.
Widely expected to run for president in 2024, DeSantis has used the demonization of people of color and queer folks as a cornerstone of his political career.
DeSantis’s ruthless campaign against the rights of LGBTQ+ youth in his state has led more than half of LGBTQ+ parents to consider leaving the state, according to a survey from the Williams Institute.
The governor has been widely criticized for his obsession with punishing Disney for speaking out against his Don’t Say Gay Law. Not only is Disney suing him, but donors and supporters have been running for the hills as DeSantis positions himself as far more focused on culture wars and personal pride than what’s best for Floridians.