Hundreds of drag queens and supporters marched to the steps of the Florida statehouse on Tuesday to protest recent efforts by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and the state GOP to restrict LGBTQ+ rights.
The 1 p.m. rally and subsequent march, organized by Orlando-based activist and entertainer Darcel Stevens, was in condemnation of the slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the Sunshine State, including bills that censor drag performances, ban gender-affirming health care for minors and prohibit transgender athletes from sports teams consistent with their gender identity, among dozens of others.
LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida this month went as far as advising against travel to the state, saying it is no longer safe for their community.
Newsweek has reached out to DeSantis representatives via email for comment.
Florida is part of a national right-wing movement to limit inclusion and access to gender-affirming health care, with more than two dozen states introducing such proposals.
More than 300 people RSVP’d to attend Tuesday’s events, Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf told Newsweek in a phone interview that evening. Wolf says the protests will continue with the goal of putting a spotlight on “this governor’s agenda of hate and bigotry.”
The group chanted phrases such as “drag is not a crime,” and “Ron DeSantis has got to go,” during what Wolf says is the “largest drag march on Tallahassee” in the state’s history. He described Tuesday’s turnout as a testament to the community’s strength and desire to fight for a better future for Floridians. He slammed DeSantis, saying parents should be free to decide what’s best for their children and shouldn’t have to “co-parent” with the conservative.
For a state that values individual freedoms, Wolf says, Florida does the opposite by banning books, gender identification, health care access and more. He said true freedom would allow the LBGTQ+ community to be “ourselves and respected and treated with dignity.”
“The last thing I want is for the nightmare that Ron DeSantis has caused in Florida to become the nation’s,” Wolf said.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, who participated in Tuesday’s events in Tallahassee, served in the state House for six years as the first openly LGBTQ+ Latino lawmaker in Florida history. He’s currently running for state Senate. Lawmakers are pushing more than 20 bills that target the LGBTQ+ community, Smith told Newsweek in a phone interview Tuesday.
Smith blasted lawmakers, saying they purposefully use vague language in many of the bills “to create fear” and have free rein to “censor” Floridians.
“This legislature is totally out of control,” he said. “They are beholden to Governor Ron DeSantis and his extreme agenda, and people are fighting back.”
DeSantis is widely expected to challenge ex-President Donald Trump for the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential primary.