Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is brushing off any concern about the NAACP issuing a formal advisory warning travelers that the Sunshine State is “openly hostile” towards Black people, people of colour and LGBT+ people.
The Independent approached Mr DeSantis’ office on Monday about the advisory issued by the largest and oldest civil rights organisation in the United States on 20 May.
“As Governor DeSantis announced last week, Florida is seeing record-breaking tourism,” DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy T Redfern said in a statement linking to a press release.
“This is nothing more than a stunt.”
The NAACP advisory came as a response to a series of laws signed by Mr DeSantis targeting classroom instruction around race and racism, gender and sexuality, and bills and administration policy aimed at LGBT+ people.
“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,” he added.
“He should know that democracy will prevail because its defenders are prepared to stand up and fight. We’re not backing down, and we encourage our allies to join us in the battle for the soul of our nation.”
The advisory states that “due to this sustained, blatant, relentless and systemic attack on democracy and civil rights, the NAACP hereby issues a travel advisory to African Americans, and other people of color regarding the hostility towards African Americans in Florida.”
DeSantis campaign aide and former press secretary Christina Pushaw appeared to mock the advisory in a tweet asking, “Does this mean no Urban Beach Week?”
On 17 May, Gov DeSantis approved a slate of bills that restrict gender-affirming care for minors, threaten drag shows, forbid people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity, and prevent people from using their chosen pronouns at schools.
The legislation also follows administration policy targeting affirming healthcare for trans youth, over the objections of major health organisations and LGBT+ advocates.
Mr DeSantis also recently expanded a measure labelled by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law prohibiting classroom instruction on issues related to gender and sexuality, which critics argue will have a chilling effect on LGBT+ people in schools as part of an effort to erase LGBT+ people from public life.
Mr DeSantis, who is reportedly preparing to launch his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, also has spearheaded a series of measures around honest discussions of race and racism in schools, including a law that blocks public spending on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Florida also is at the centre of a nationwide trend of challenges against books and materials in libraries and schools. This week, Penguin Random House and several prominent authors and families filed a federal lawsuit against a school district where activists have challenged dozens of books, largely involving or written by people of colour or LGBT+ people.
In April, advocacy group Equality Florida issued a similar travel advisory that warned that the state may “not be a safe place to visit or take up residence”.
“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,” according to a statement from Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s executive director.
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