Several civil rights organizations are now cautioning various minorities against traveling to Florida following a flurry of state legislation this year targeting the rights of Black Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals.
On Saturday, the NAACP joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino rights advocacy group, and Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, in issuing Florida travel advisories. The NAACP warned that Florida had become “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals,” highlighting its attacks on the teaching of Black history and on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in public schools.
It’s unclear whether the organizations’ advisories will have any real impact on tourism, which is one of Florida’s biggest industries. According to Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office, a record 37.9 million travelers visited Florida in the first quarter of 2023, up 6.7 percent from a year ago and mostly driven by people coming from other US states. Overseas travel has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, but lawmakers hoping to change that are pouring $80 million into tourism campaigns next fiscal year, an increase of $30 million over this year.
Though those visitors were recorded before the civil rights organizations issued their advisories, DeSantis’s policies have been well-covered in the national media, suggesting that many decided to visit Florida even as the legislature has taken a hard right turn this session.
Earlier this month, DeSantis, who is expected to announce his 2024 presidential campaign this week, signed legislation preventing public funds from being used to support DEI programs at public colleges and universities. He’s also eliminated Advanced Placement courses in African American studies for high school students in the state and banned the teaching of “critical race theory” — an academic framework that examines the role of racism in US culture and institutions.
In response, the NAACP has sent 10,000 books, mostly those subject to increasingly restrictive book bans, to 25 predominantly Black communities across the state.
“Let me be clear — failing to teach an accurate representation of the horrors and inequalities that Black Americans have faced and continue to face is a disservice to students and a dereliction of duty to all,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon.”
LGBTQ and immigrant rights have also come under assault in Florida
DeSantis, aiming to prove his conservative bona fides ahead of announcing his 2024 bid, has also led Florida’s crackdown on immigrants.
He sent migrants to Martha’s Vineyard under what they say were false pretenses in an effort to score political points against the Biden administration’s border policies, and has barred many Chinese citizens from buying property in the state.
He’s also signed a law mandating that businesses with at least 25 employees verify the citizenship status of workers and invalidating out-of-state identification cards issued to undocumented immigrants. The policy also prevents state authorities from issuing new IDs, meaning undocumented immigrants could be fined or possibly imprisoned just for driving with their existing licenses.
Domingo Garcia, president of the Latino advocacy group League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), called that law “hostile and dangerous” in a press conference earlier this month. “We do not doubt that if Abuelita or Tia is with us and we are profiled, DeSantis’ enforcement regulations will treat us like criminals, transporting a dangerous person who only wanted to visit family or enjoy Disney World,” he said in a statement.
DeSantis has also led a coordinated national campaign against LGBTQ rights. He signed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prevents teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, and a ban on gender-affirming care for minors. He’s made it illegal for Floridians to use bathrooms and changing facilities that don’t correspond with their sex at birth, barred transgender women and girls from participating in school sports, and prevented teachers from using pronouns that align with their students’ gender identity. Those policies have already forced many families to consider relocating.
“It is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms,” Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s executive director, said in a statement. “We understand everyone must weigh the risks and decide what is best for their safety, but whether you stay away, leave or remain we ask that you join us in countering these relentless attacks.”