Travelers considering a visit to Florida should proceed with caution, a pair of civil rights groups warned Wednesday, citing a slate of “hateful laws” that target vulnerable communities.
Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in St. Petersburg, said Wednesday in a travel advisory that the state “may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence” in the wake of recently passed laws that target LGBTQ people, restrict access to reproductive health care and relax firearms restrictions.
“Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state,” the group’s advisory states.
Equality Florida on Wednesday said issuing the advisory is an “unprecedented step” that followed a slew of safety inquiries from concerned individuals and families.
“As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live work and visit, 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, the group’s executive director, said Wednesday in a statement.
Also on Wednesday, the Florida Immigrant Coalition issued its own warning, writing that travel to all areas of Florida should be done with “extreme caution as it can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers.”
“…every county in Florida poses a heightened risk of harassment, possible detainment, and potential family separation based on racial profiling,” the group wrote Wednesday. Those who do decide to travel to Florida should “make a clear safety plan,” the group said.
Jeremy Redfern, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) deputy press secretary, brushed off Equality Florida’s travel advisory as a “political stunt.”
“We aren’t going to waste our time worrying about political stunts,” he told The Hill in an email. “We will continue doing what is right for Floridians.”
The actions by the two groups follows the NAACP Florida State Conference’s unanimous vote to ask the NAACP Board of Directors to issue a travel advisory for the state of Florida. A decision on whether to issue the advisory, which would “urge the Black community to avoid visiting or moving” to Florida, will be made by July.
The group took that step after the Florida state education department in January rejected the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course, citing a lack of educational value and criticizing a section of the course focused on the experience of Black queer Americans.
DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination, last month called the resolution “a joke.”
“We’ll see how effective that is,” he said.
At least 10 bills explicitly targeting the rights of LGBTQ people have been introduced this year by lawmakers in Florida, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Last month, DeSantis’s administration took steps to broaden a controversial state education law prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Florida under DeSantis has also barred health care providers from administering gender-affirming health care to minors and prevented transgender Floridians of all ages from using Medicaid to help pay for gender-affirming medical care.
The governor has additionally been a vocal critic of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and critical race theory, an academic framework evaluating U.S. history through the lens of racism that has become a political catch-all buzzword for any race-related teaching.
Florida lawmakers this year have also advanced legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit or proof of training, which Equality Florida in its advisory said have also made the state a more dangerous place to live or visit.
“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,” Smith, of Equality Florida, said Wednesday.