The moral conundrum of visiting Florida as a Black queer person
I lit up with excitement when I received the news that I’d be attending the 2023 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, the largest LGBTQ+ workplace equality summit globally. The summit provides a chance to immerse myself in discussions and workshops focused on LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion, and presents a unique platform to connect with over 3,500 like-minded individuals and industry leaders who share my passion for equality.
As I prepared for the summit, I couldn’t help but reflect on my personal journey. Coming out to my family as a teenager in the early 2010s, I was told that I’d be “coming out” for the rest of my life, and one of the most scary places to come out next would be at work. You won’t get promoted, you’ll be teased and excluded, and you might not even get hired, were some of the fears hurled at me. Their concerns made me wonder if I would be able to live authentically in all aspects of my life, both professionally and personally.
However, I eventually learned that times have changed and most of our country’s largest companies now embrace LGBTQ diversity and inclusion. Now, the Human Rights Campaign has aligned over 500 companies to support federal protections for LGBTQ workers, including more than 160 of Fortune’s 500. And a recent report from McKinsey found that organizations that are LGBTQ-friendly actually are more profitable.
I eagerly participate in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit because events like these have the power to drive change and promote greater inclusivity in the workplace. They not only encourage companies that may be lagging behind in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion but also challenge those organizations that have already made progressive commitments to push even further.
But there was only one challenge… the 2023 Out & Equal Workplace Summit was set to be hosted in Florida.
3500 queer folks were set to embark upon, of all places in the United States, Florida, the battleground for LGBTQ equality. Fear, disappointment, anxiety, bravery, and courage all created an emotional cocktail when I thought about my queer body existing in a space that’s known to be as oppressive as Florida.
Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis continues to make LGBTQ folks one of his political punching bags. He and the state’s GOP lawmakers year-over-year outdo themselves with the most anti-LGBTQ legislative sessions, clearly signaling his lack of interest in my safety as well as queer folks everywhere. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill along with a slew of others such as the “Anti Trans Bathroom” bill and “License to Discriminate in Healthcare” bill have all made national headlines, stirring concern and panic for our queer community.
Two Florida communities have canceled annual Pride parades out of concern that they will unintentionally break a new law that makes it a third-degree felony to have a child present at “an adult live performance.” Some transgender families are placing their children in private schools. And a growing roster of LGBTQ families and individuals are opting to leave the sunshine state entirely. In fact, NBA star Dwyane Wade announced that he had moved his family to California in part because he feared his transgender teenage daughter “would not be accepted or feel comfortable” in Florida.
I questioned whether I myself would be accepted or feel comfortable or safe in Florida. I received numerous warnings from friends in the Bay Area to “be safe.”
And then I read the advisory for LGBTQ travelers. The LGBTQ travel advisory follows warnings from national civil rights groups like NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). They, too, are concerned about Florida’s actions, including laws signed by Governor DeSantis that restrict teaching American history, cut funding for diversity programs, ban certain books, and target immigrants. The Florida Immigrant Coalition also issued a travel advisory about the risks of moving to or visiting Florida in April.
The reactions have been mixed — both avoidance and activism have spurred from the travel advisory, and both reactions are entirely valid. Some LGBTQ individuals may choose to steer clear of Florida as a form of protest against discriminatory legislation. They may cite spending their dollars elsewhere to avoid contributing to Florida’s sales tax revenues. Others may see it as an opportunity to make a stand, to be visible and vocal, and to support LGBTQ communities within the state. Neither choice is right or wrong; they are both powerful expressions of our shared values.
“If you come to Florida, join us in this fight. If you decide to leave or avoid the state, don’t abandon this fight. Florida is the frontline but this is a national battle for freedom,” says Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s Executive Director, in a clarifying message. Her words were the reassurance that if I was coming to Florida for anything, advocating for workplace LGBTQ equality was a pretty good reason to do so.
While many LGBTQ folks are avoiding the state altogether, the conference organizers’ resolute decision to host a LGBTQ equality conference in Florida has prompted a different response: a call to action. The advisory, rather than deterring us, became a catalyst for reinforcing our commitment to the cause of equality. In essence, it became an urgent call to stand up and be counted, to show solidarity with our LGBTQ family in Florida.
Other conferences are known to also have used conference locations to shine a light on important values. The International AIDS Society boasts on its website how it intentionally chooses the location of its gatherings. International HIV conferences can serve as an act of solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS in countries with punitive laws. It sends a powerful message that the global community stands together, united in the fight against discrimination and stigma. However, the IAS discusses how safety and well-being of participants remain paramount, and decisions must be made with careful consideration of the risks involved. Similarly for the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, security was deeply considered and it was the first time I had ever gone to a security briefing for a conference.
What is also crucial, however, is that we do not remain silent to the injustices happening in different states and countries. While Florida’s lawmakers, for instance, continue their assault against our community, our response matters. Whether we choose to avoid the state or travel to it with a message of unity and resistance, we must make our voices heard. Our advocacy and activism can bring about change and challenge the discriminatory laws that have sparked these travel advisories in the first place.