On May 21, 2023, PBS reported that multiple human rights groups have now issued travel warnings to tourists about hostile laws in Florida. My father’s stories echo in my mind, and I think of my own experiences 55 years later. I drive through Texas twice a year. When we pull into gas stations with our New York license plates, we get death stares… In Arizona, we hopped out of the truck to go have breakfast at a diner and a man looked at our license plate and said, “We should hang ‘em.”
FLORIDA, United States ꟷ As a young girl, I remember my father telling me about traveling to the south as a young man in the 1960s. He legitimately feared driving through certain states with New York license plates. In one such state, a cop pulled him over and told him to be out of town before sundown. Yes, he used those actual words.
My dad eventually moved to Florida. On the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, my dad sat in a diner. The news flashed across the television screen. My father hung his head and began to cry. The rest of the white people in the diner shared a shamefully different reaction. They stood up and cheered like their favorite quarterback just made a perfect pass to win the game.
On May 21, 2023, PBS reported that multiple human rights groups issued travel warnings to tourists about hostile laws in Florida. My father’s stories echo in my mind, and I think of my own experiences 55 years later. I drive through Texas twice a year. When we pull into gas stations with our New York license plates, we get death stares. This is not imaginary. In Arizona, we hopped out of the truck to go have breakfast at a diner. A man looked at our license plate and said, “We should hang ‘em.”
My conclusion to this: as a whole, people do not change. They go into hiding. Extremism will come for us, so we must be extreme about voting, raising our voices, and fighting injustice. If we do not, ugliness and hate will rule, even here in the so-called promised land. It can be easy to believe the Civil Rights Movement was a one-and-done; that we won the battle for women’s and gay rights. The fact remains, if we sleep, we lose it, and hate is no longer hiding.
As of this past weekend, travel advisories for the Sunshine State came out from Equality Florida [a gay rights advocacy group], the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Florida Immigration Coalition.
The NAACP statement said the state of Florida “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.” Equality Florida warned queer individuals, families, students, and businesspeople to think twice about visiting or moving to Florida. The Florida Immigration Coalition, comprised of 65 member organizations, warned people of color, those with accents, and international travelers from coming to the state.
The thing is, it’s not just Florida. Back in my hometown, a man just got elected to the school board. This same man posts overt and disgusting transphobic memes regularly on Facebook. He’s one of about five members of a far-right, evangelical group taking over the school board in that rural New York town. My dear friend who still lives there made a pointed comment that applies to all of these scenarios. As people expressed outrage about the election result, my friend noted low voter turnout. People aren’t paying attention and as a result, hate slips in.
Frankly, I wonder if Governor DeSantis is getting exactly what he wants with these travel advisories in Florida: less of “those” people in his state. What did Marjorie Taylor Greene say? We need a national divorce between red and blue states? It looks like we are well on our way to at least a nasty separation.
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