by • May 2, 2023 • News, Opinion, PoliticsComments (0)591

Sun-Sentinel Op-Ed: Florida’s LGBTQ community must resist rollback of our rights


By Wayne Besen

In the aftermath of Florida expanding legislative attacks on its LGBTQ population, the community is struggling with how best to respond. Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast reacted to the uncertainty by announcing Pridefest would only be open to those over 21 years old and they canceled what they called their “beloved” Port St. Lucie pride parade.

This is precisely the wrong action to take. What is needed is courage, not cowardice in the face of state sponsored persecution. In the fighting spirit of Stonewall, the LGBTQ community must stubbornly resist efforts to silence students, strip transgender Floridians of healthcare and falsely label comedic drag shows “obscene”. Canceling our events only appeases bullies like Gov. Ron DeSantis and encourages further attempts to limit our freedom.

Organizing is our only path to overcoming this season of politically manufactured moral panic. Instead of canceling Pride, what if we reinstated the Port St. Lucie parade and called it Florida Pride, flooding the city with 50,000 marchers from around the state? This would send a powerful message that we have the courage to fight and refuse to be cowed.

The language regarding measures to cancel drag shows is deliberately vague with the goal of creating a climate of uncertainty and fear. We must not succumb and allow the ambiguity to create political paralysis. Let’s challenge such equivocal laws that are likely an unconstitutional attack on free expression.

If police or state agencies show up with the goal of shutting down a drag show, we must vigorously contest their false claims of obscenity. Most performances by female impersonators are comedic and intended to bring joy. One cannot claim they are inherently “sexual” or titillating unless one has an excessively prurient mind. We must ask Governor DeSantis why he and his allies are lusting at drag shows while the rest of us are innocently laughing?

We must inquire why it’s okay for conservatives to take their kids to overtly sexual venues like Hooters restaurants to order off the children’s menu, why liberals are forbidden to take their kids to drag shows. So much for the right-wing mantra of parental rights.

It is critically important to force Republicans to specifically define “drag” before they enforce laws against it. How do they intend to prove when one crosses the arbitrary and capricious line from gender non-confirming to drag queen? How much make-up must one wear for it to officially be drag? If one covers up a small blemish with concealer, does that constitute drag? Is a kilt a dress? If a woman wears blue jeans and a trucker shirt, is it drag?

This year, Pride committees should consider dropping the term “drag” and rebrand these events “Pride Fashion Balls”. If law enforcement shows up the performers should stand firm and say, “define drag queen. I identify as a fashionista.”

Of course, Republicans would counter that drag is “a man wearing the clothes of a woman or a woman wearing the clothes of a man.” But the moment they go down this rabbit hole, they open a perilous legal and cultural can of worms. In essence, they are creating a new regime of oppressive state-approved uniforms that strictly divide the sexes in Florida. Let them explain to voters how it’s liberty when a bunch of old men in Tallahassee get to choose what is acceptable attire for men and women in our state?

Will they next raid unisex clothing stores? Will they decide the “appropriate” length of men’s hair or decree that women must wear one-piece bathing suits at the beach to enforce modesty? Once the authoritarian door is opened, it’s a slippery slope of state control we only recently deemed unimaginable. They’ve already decided to ban abortion at six weeks, forcing Florida women to give birth. So, it seems a bad bet to believe that Republicans are capable of moderation on issues of social control.

Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast may have been well intentioned, but canceling pride parades doesn’t offer increased “safety”. It simply encourages our foes to take further steps to intimidate and harass us into choosing invisibility. We must reject the idea of cooperating with state and local officials to voluntarily strip ourselves of dignity and human rights.

Our homes might be in DeSantistan, but we are Americans first and our rights are constitutionally protected. The LGBTQ community has overcome far worse from Anita Bryant to AIDS discrimination, and battles over marriage equality. We have prevailed every time and we should commit ourselves to doing so again, by lifting this contemporary dark cloud of bigotry that hangs ominously over the Sunshine State.

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