Roughly one year ago, communications sophomore Earnest Cherry came out to their loved ones. Now, after legislative changes and divisiveness in Florida, Cherry said they are scared to celebrate in the same way.
Cherry said their concern extends beyond just this month’s events.
“It’s scary to see what our state is becoming,” they said. “I no longer feel safe late at night, or going out to the club with friends. I don’t know if someone will pull a gun on me because I am wearing a crop top.”
Public health junior Bich Huynh said she worries that the lewd of anti-LGBTQ legislation makes room for more hate crimes to be directed towards her queer friends.
“I already don’t feel safe walking around campus as a woman, so with the hatred being more open to the [LGBTQ] community right now, it really scares me,” Huyhn said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has passed several bills involving LGBTQ topics in education and queer access to healthcare. The latest, Senate Bill 1438 titled “Protection Of Children,” aims to prevent children from attending adult live performances that simulate nudity, display of sexual activity and prosthetics usually seen in drag performances.
The bill could change daytime shows during Pride events across the state.
USF College Republicans Vice President and environmental engineering senior Aleyda Matamoros – who identifies as bisexual – said she believes drag shows are inappropriate for children after experiencing them for herself.
“It’s very similar to burlesque and it can be equated to actual stripping,” Matamoros said. ”I don’t think children should be around this kind of sexual, very high energy performance.”
Matamoros said the younger generation of conservatives believes one should wait until they are 18 to attend a show. She said children should not be exposed to any sort of sexual education and gender identity topics before 8th grade, as it states in the new House Bill 1069.
Tampa Pride on the River was canceled due to the possibility of fining, suspension or revoking of any public license for events which allowed the presence of children in adult live performances, according to a May 18 WFLA article.
Although fines and penalties may still occur, the St. Pete Pride Board of Directors announced in a statement that they condemn the governor’s bill and will maintain all performers as scheduled, according to an April 14 Tampa Bay Times article.
Debates on the targeting of drag and its appropriation to children has been in the forefront of the media in the last year. USF graduate student and alum Charlie Suor said the targeting of drag performers and transgender people simultaneously is not a coincidence.
“I think that a lot of people don’t realize the targeting of drag performers is the first step to targeting trans people, because a lot of these folks see trans people as a type of performance, some sort of dress up,” Suor said.
“By targeting drag performers and saying this is inappropriate for children, then the next step is to argue trans people are inappropriate for children,” Suor said.
There is a big misconception between gender expression and sexual expression, Cherry said, and that is why they believe there is such a divide between the LGBTQ community and cis-gendered people.
Matamoros said passing bills such as Senate Bill 254, which prevents minors from accessing sex reassignment procedures in or out-of-state, is essential in shielding children from inappropriate sexualization. She said she believes children shouldn’t be involved with sexual topics at such an early age, and that the message of protecting them has been lost in the media.
“Most kids don’t even know what they want to study when they graduate highschool, how would you know what gender you are?” Matamoros said
The extensive list of legislation aiming to protect the youth does not have every child in mind, Suor said.
“The desire to protect children is one we can all understand, but if you want to protect children, what about queer children and trans children? You are actively harming them by taking away any representation they might have,” Suor said.
The apprehension on expressing pride and representing one’s sexuality this year is shared among a lot of queer students in Florida, and the way one dresses and acts can put them into dangerous situations, according to Cherry.
“I want to celebrate in the few Pride events that are going on, but with this political climate as well as how unsafe it is just to be an openly queer person, I know that it is very difficult for me to feel safe like I did last year,” Cherry said.
Legislative changes don’t need to signify any event cancellation or changes in celebrations, according to Matamoros. She said it is more about how one chooses to express themselves in public.
“If it’s something you don’t need to call attention to, which is weird considering what Pride is, you will feel like it’s one of those everyday things, and people aren’t going to notice or care in all honesty,” Matamoros said.
Although some will be forced to adapt to new laws and social environments because of recent changes, Suor said he believes struggle is a part of Pride’s history, and the LGBTQ community will find comfort in each other like they always have.
“We can move ourselves within the confines of the law. We will do what we can to keep you off our backs, but when it comes to a point we are not doing that anymore,” Suor said. “No matter the laws passed, trans people won’t be erased, drag performers won’t be erased, the greater community will not be erased.”