New Billboard Campaign Greets Visitors to DeSantis’s Florida: ‘The “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” State’

by Elizabeth Bibi

Human Rights Campaign launches billboard campaign across Florida, highlighting need to immediately repeal or strike down discriminatory law targeting LGBTQ+ young people and their teachers

Washington, D.C. — Visitors to Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando, and South Florida are being greeted by new billboards this week welcoming them to “Florida: The Sunshine ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ State.” The billboards, which are being placed in key areas across the state with high visitor traffic and visibility, including near airports and along large interstate highways, are part of a new advertising campaign launched by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. The billboards will raise public awareness around the ways Florida’s image has been irreversibly damaged by the new “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, which is designed to silence teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people – further stigmatizing and isolating LGBTQ+ kids and also undermining existing protections for LGBTQ+ students, as well as yesterday’s decision by the Governor DeSantis’s Department of Health to release a statement attacking the established standards of age-appropriate, medically-necessary, and often life-saving care for transgender youth.

“Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law is outrageous and discriminatory. It needs to be repealed immediately. This billboard campaign is designed to make people confront what this terrible law really does: censor and silence educators and isolate LGBTQ+ students and their families,” said Joni Madison, Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign. “Florida cannot be considered the ‘Sunshine State’ when Governor Ron DeSantis is putting so many of its constituents in harm’s way. Governor DeSantis can try to tell teachers what they can teach, can try to tell kids what they can read, and can try to tell students what they can learn - but he cannot tell LGBTQ+ people who we can be. LGBTQ+ people are teachers, are parents, and yes, are students too - and we are going to keep fighting until this law is off the books.”

Billboard locations for the campaign, which will run for the next four weeks and also includes online digital ads, include:

TAMPA — One billboard went live on April 19th

  • Location: Westbound I-4 between Tampa's Ybor City and the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre.

TALLAHASSEE — Three billboards went live on April 20th

  • Location 1: Capitol Circle SE North of Apache Parkway

  • Location 2: N. Monroe St. North of E. Bradford Rd.

  • Location 3: Capitol Circle NE South of Centerville Rd.

ORLANDO AREA— Three billboards are going live today, April 21st

  • Location 1: E. Colonial Dr (SR50) West of SR408

  • Location 2: Lee Road West of N. Orlando Ave.

  • Location 3: SR 436 West of Pearl Lake Causeway

Additionally, HRC plans to launch more billboards in the next few days in South Florida.

According to the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida, 49% of Floridians opposed the legislation while only 40% supported it. Opposition for the bill is even stronger in younger populations. A majority of Floridians between the ages of 18 and 24 — recent secondary school graduates — disapproved of efforts to erase LGBTQ+ people in classrooms.

Strong Opposition to Discriminatory Attacks on LGBTQ+ Population

Nationally, support for nondiscrimination protections is the highest it’s ever been, overall, and across state, religious affiliation, and party membership: According to a recent report from PRRI, approximately eight in ten Americans (79%) favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. This reflects an 11% increase in the proportion of Americans who support nondiscrimination protections since 2015 (71%).

The PRRI study also shows that legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill is unlikely to gain support from state residents — 80% of Floridians support nondiscrimination protections, and 66% of Floridians oppose refusal of service on religious grounds.

The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups, representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations, recently released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.

Nearly 200 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoken out to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed in states across the country. Companies like Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Airbnb, Disney, Dell, Dow, Google, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nike , and Wells Fargo have objected to anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation. Apple CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that he stands with LGBTQ+ youth harmed by legislation like HB 1557. More than 60 businesses went on the record earlier this month with an ad placed in the Dallas Morning News calling on public leaders to abandon efforts to write discrimination into law and policy. Apple, Capital One, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and Unilever were among the more than 60 businesses that joined the ad. Only weeks ago, Rosanna Durruthy, Vice President, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn, invited the LinkedIn community to stand up for LGBTQ+ families and their right to make decisions to support their loved ones.

Four of the largest U.S. food companies also condemned “dangerous, discriminatory legislation that serves as an attack on LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender and nonbinary people,” and the Walton Family Foundation issued a statement expressing “alarm” at the trend of anti-transgender legislation that recently became law in Arkansas.

Legislative Attacks on LGBTQ+ People

The signing of the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill arrives at a time when statewide officials in Texas have tried to criminalize transition care for minors, and lawmakers in Alabama are on the verge of passing legislation to do so as well. Iowa recently became the first state in the country that had passed statewide non-discrimination protections that include LGBTQ+ people to reverse course by prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. And in South Dakota, Gov. Noem proclaimed that it “makes me sad” to hear about high rates of depression among LGBTQ+ people in her state – just days after she signed the first anti-trans bill of 2022 into law.

Just three months into the year, HRC is tracking 583+ pieces of potentially LGBTQ+-related legislation introduced in the 2022 state legislative session. Of those, at least 313 are classified as harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, and 137+ are specifically anti-transgender bills.

While the sponsors of these pieces of legislation make disingenuous claims about what their bills will do, their own statements and those of their supporters are revealing their true intentions. Governor DeSantis’ own press secretary, as well as advisers and staffers for Republican governors in Texas and South Dakota, and a bill sponsor in Iowa, have made public hateful comments this year laying bare that these bills are more about prejudice against transgender people than any real policy position.

A Coordinated, National Effort to Fear Monger and Marginalize LGBTQ+ People

Groups like the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Eagle Forum, and others are at the helm of this effort, seeking to use LGBTQ+ rights as a political wedge.

These bills are the result of a concerted effort by right-wing organizations that have been battling against LGBTQ+ progress for years. Across recent elections, one of the key anti-equality groups working to turn back decades of LGBTQ+ progress has been the American Principles Project (APP). APP and its chief underwriter Sam Fieler have invested millions of dollars in support of anti-LGBTQ+ candidates. In 2020, APP spent more than $2.6 million in ad spending in support of anti-equality candidates. In Virginia in 2021, APP spent at least $300,000 on digital advertising in support of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign.

Restoration PAC, run and funded by major anti-LGBTQ+ bankroller Dick Uihlein, spent at least $1.9 million in advertising across Virginia in support of Youngkin and donated $942,000 to the political arm of anti-abortion group Women Speak Out Virginia. Anti-equality group Free to Learn Action launched a $1 million ad campaign spreading widely debunked anti-transgender misinformation in support of Youngkin’s campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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