Some Pride organizers in Florida remain defiant this year as others cancel events

MUNICH, BAVARIA / GERMANY - JULY 13, 2019: A drag queen blowing kisses into the camera attending the Gay Pride parade also known as Christopher Street Day (CSD) in Munich, Germany.
Photo: Shutterstock

In Florida this summer, Pride is struggling.

Across the state, Pride festival organizers are confronting the reality of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s crusade against drag performers and LGBTQ+ identity as he runs for president on a pledge to remake America in Florida’s image.

His efforts are being met with both defiance and resignation.

“We are telling people not to run, not to hide,” Equality Florida’s Carlos Guillermo Smith told Reuters. “That’s what the bigots want.”

DeSantis hasn’t made it easy.

Last week he added to his anti-LGBTQ+ legacy by signing a so-called “slate of hate,” a collection of four bills including a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, pronoun prohibitions, trans bathroom bans, and new penalties for venues hosting children at “adult live performances.”

The last would make Pride venues, organizers, performers, and even patrons criminally liable if minors were present during a drag performance.  

While the text of the bill does not mention drag by name, a handout from the governor’s Wednesday signing ceremony stated that drag shows are considered “adult live performances” without “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”  

With Wednesday’s legislative pile-on, Tampa Pride organizers had seen enough.

Speaking of DeSantis, Tampa Pride president Carrie West explained, “We just said, you know what, we are afraid if we did go through with this he 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.”

Tampa Pride was scheduled for September.

A request from Reuters for comment from the governor earned a terse reply, stating he wouldn’t respond to any “baseless accusations” linking the new laws to hostility and violence toward the LGBTQ+ community. The governor “will continue to do what is right and protect the innocence of children,” the email said.

There wasn’t much to add. DeSantis’s strategy to put a chill on summer Pride seems to be working.

In the small town of St. Cloud, outside Orlando, organizers canceled a June 10 Pride event with a food market and a drag show saying the current climate made it “unsafe” to proceed.

In St. Lucie, their all-ages Pride event is now an adults-only gathering, and the parade has been canceled. Drag performances at a Naples Pride fest were moved to an indoor venue. 

Yet there are other towns across the Sunshine State that are standing up to the governor.

Tiffany Freisberg, chair of St. Pete Pride, home to Florida’s biggest Pride parade, said canceling was never an option.

“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.”

In Orlando, Joseph Clark, the head of Gay Days, says his group’s summer tours at Disney World and Pride events including drag shows and pool parties won’t be changed, and he’s encouraging LGBTQ+ people from around the country, and the world, to come to Florida in defiance of DeSantis.

“When people come to Pride events, that unity and coming together creates a layer of security for our community and it shows that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” said Clark.

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