Activists want Florida to be the 16th state to ban conversion therapy. The practice is known for trying to change someone from gay to straight. Awareness of LGBTQ issues is on the rise, but that doesn't mean acceptance is widespread.
On a cold November night in Tallahassee, about 20 protestors bundled in jackets and scarves, gathered outside Hotel Duval. They're led by community activist Lakey Love who's wearing a pink, yellow and blue striped flag as a cape. It represents Pansexual pride. The group chants "stand up, fight back," and "Not the church, not the state, we alone decide our fate.”
As the group chants, cars drive by honking. Inside, Freedom Speaks President Bev Killmer, watches from the lobby as the prostestors scream in opposition to her group. She's hoping to find state legislators who will sponsor bills to ban sex education in elementary schools and ban gay-straight alliances at schools.
“There should not be such a thing as a LGBTQ friendly school. Why does it even need to be an issue?” Killmer asks, shaking her head as the group outside continues its protest.
How the protest started
Plans for the rally ignited after LGBTQ activists got their hands on a conference pamphlet printed by Freedom Speaks. The front page reads, “Protecting America’s Heritage.” Among Freedom Speaks' legislative efforts: passing a bill banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, and protecting monuments and memorials. The group also calls for "keeping Islam and the Qur'an out of" schools and goverment, and "making Americanism vs. Socialism a required course for graduation."
One section in the pamphlet reads, “No child should have to be exposed to the ideology of LGBTQ, multiple gender identities, and the proper pronouns.”
Love says Freedom Speaks' ideology could end up hurting kids.
“We want to protect LGBTQIA+ kids that are just coming out in schools that are being bullied, that are being harassed, that can suffer discrimination at the hands of teachers, parents, other students."
Freedom Speaks' Claims
Killmer claims Florida is teaching elementary school kids LGBTQ issues in sex education courses.
“To teach you about your body that’s fine. To teach you about sexuality is not fine,” she says.
When asked multiple times through email and phone calls for what schools and district's have such programs, Killmer didn’t respond. The state allows local districts to determine how they teach sex education. Leon County uses a program created by Proctor and Gamble to teach fifth graders about their bodies. It doesn’t mention sexual orientation or gender identity. When told this, Killmer pointed to a book titled, “It’s Perfectly Normal.” This book does aim to teach children LGBTQ-related topics, but it’s not in Leon County School libraries nor is it present in any of the Big Bend's 13 school districts.
NPR describes the book as, "one of the most banned books of the past two decades."
LGBTQ Rights in Florida
The clash at Hotel Duval is mirrored throughout Florida. For 12 years, lawmakers have been trying to pass laws to protect LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination. Local human rights ordinances exist in several cities, but there is no state-wide protection.
A bill banning Conversion therapy has been filed in the legisature for the fifth time. Conversion therapy tries to change a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association opposes the practice, saying it poses significant harm to patients. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with numerous medical organizations, also opposes the practice and 15 other states have banned it. During a recent anti-conversion therapy town hall in Tallahassee, a skirmish breaks out when a woman from Freedom Speaks, stands up but doesn't give her name.
“It’s not that these people—that these children are being born gay,” the woman begins, “It’s that they’re being groomed and lured into the transgender and LGBTQ culture.” Her remarks stirred audience members. Panelist Denzel Pierre responded by recounting how she grew up in a Christian church with no knowledge of the LGBTQ community.
“With all due respect ma’am, I think your information and your ideology is rooted in a hate toward us,
The woman was kicked out.
For years, there's not been enough Republican support to pass the conversion therapy ban or expanding anti-descrimination laws to include LGBTQ Floridians. Republicans hold the majority in the legislature and control the governorship. However, that could be changing. Last year, Republican Party of Florida Chairman and state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, sponsored a measure to grant workplace protections. But LGBTQ activists criticized him for not adding housing and public accommodations to the package, and his bill died.
Meanwhile, activists like Love say they won’t back down. But Neither will those like Freedom Speaks’ Killmer.