In conservative Florida, LGBT community fights to make its voice heard

Even though the new rule is directed at younger students, 19-year-old Humphrey says his own teachers are also now reluctant to discuss his gender identity or name change.
Image used for representational purpose only
Image used for representational purpose only

ORLANDO: A Beyonce hit thumped in the background as Pride parade participants marched on Saturday through the streets of Orlando, transforming the Florida city into a rainbow island in a US state more and more associated with the conservative politics of its governor.

Behind their beaming smiles and vibrant outfits, the state's LGBT community is having a tough year.

"We're definitely headed back in time," said Donna Marie, a 55-year-old nurse in a rainbow hat. "And if this continues, the next thing is going to be gay marriage," she added, referring to the fear of a potential political threat to same-sex unions.

In March, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, one of the most prominent conservative politicians in the United States, signed a law prohibiting the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school classrooms.

The controversial bill -- dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law by its detractors -- was a major topic of discussion at the Pride parade, with signs encouraging participants to not only "say gay," but also to "shout gay" and "yell gay" too.

For 22-year-old Brianna Johnson, the political environment made her appearance at Pride all the more meaningful, because, she said, "We still show who we are, and nobody can stop us from that."

Johnson, a manager with Disney, said she has known she was a lesbian since but her religious family has been a long-time obstacle on the path to embracing her true identity.

Stopping young people from expressing themselves, as Florida's law could, is "very harmful and hurtful," according to Johnson.

"It hurts my heart," she said.


Not far from a stand selling signs exclaiming "I love my gay son," 61-year-old Morgan Manry shares his own concerns.

The non-profit worker recalls how the 2016 massacre at Pulse, in which 49 people were killed in a shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, "brought together the city" and helped the LGBT community become more accepted around town.

Now, the current political climate is "dismantling a social understanding that took years to develop," Manry said.

Transgender student Jason Humphrey says he is facing the indirect consequences of the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Even though the new rule is directed at younger students, 19-year-old Humphrey says his own teachers are also now reluctant to discuss his gender identity or name change.

"They were worried about getting in any trouble," he told AFP, calling the situation "horrible."

"We're citizens of Florida too, come on. It's not appropriate," he said of the law, carrying a large python around his arm -- and hurrying to clarify that the animal does not bite.

Get out and vote

Coming just weeks before decisive midterm elections, the Pride parade cannot help but take on a political tone.

Local Democratic candidates work campaign stands along the route, and US Senate candidate Val Demings marches right in the middle of the procession, rainbow flag in hand.

The campaigning helps to differentiate candidates from DeSantis and uses the social issue to motivate Democratic voters to show up to the polls.

For some Pride attendants, such as Aubrey Robinson, the strategy seems to be working. Next to a button reading "respect all pronouns," the 43-year-old is wearing another one in support of a Democratic candidate, who, "I'll be honest with you, I don't know anything about him," she said.

But campaigners told Robinson the candidate is opposed to the governor's policies.

"Anybody that is against DeSantis and getting in there and that is for the community, I'm for," she said.

"I think that it's very important to get out and vote. More so than ever now."

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The New Indian Express