June can’t come soon enough for Nikkie Jackson.
Rainbow windsocks no longer wave from her apartment balcony. She removed them in March, along with the magnet on her car that read, “I’m so gay I s--t rainbows.”
When her lease is up this summer, Jackson will return to Illinois after two years in the Sunshine State.
“I spent 30 years in the closet, and I won’t be going back now,” Jackson, a lesbian in Jacksonville, said through tears. “But I’m scared — if they’re targeting trans people now, they’ll eventually come for the rest of us.”
In the wake of a wave of Florida legislation taking aim at LGBTQ+ issues, some people are abandoning life here.
One bill proposed this session would create harsher penalties for businesses that admit children into “sexual performances,” which critics say is meant to target drag shows. Another would limit bathroom use for transgender people. A third would make it a third-degree felony to provide medical interventions to treat children with gender dysphoria in Florida.
All three passed the House on Wednesday.
The same day, the Florida Board of Education approved a ban on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, expanding the Parental Rights in Education law that critics have called the Don’t Say Gay law.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supports the initiatives, along with Republican lawmakers, say they’re pushing the bills to protect children.
LGBTQ+ residents who are packing their bags say they no longer feel safe living in a state with legislation that they believe will harm members of their community, particularly transgender kids.
“One wonders, how bad is it going to get?” asked Tampa Bay area resident Clare Dygert.
‘I can’t afford the risk’
The Riverview house was supposed to be their forever home.
It was where Dygert and Simone Bouyer planned to celebrate their retirement years, surrounded by a community of chosen family.
But the couple spent their recent date night planning their next move — quite literally.
“We love the weather, we love our town, and we love our friends here,” said 68-year-old Dygert. “And it’s expensive to move — but I also can’t afford how risky this place is becoming for me, personally.”
Dygert is getting older, she said. Proposals like House Bill 1403, which would allow doctors and insurance companies to drop patients based on a “conscience-based objection,” frighten her.
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“I’m very visibly out,’” Dygert said. “Do I need to ask my ophthalmologist, ‘Will you continue to treat me if this bill passes?’”
The pair has resolved to move to North Carolina in the next year and a half.
“To be honest, will things be better there?” Dygert asked. “I don’t know. But here — if you’re going to go after trans people, if you’re going to go after LGBTQ people, how long is it going to be before you go after interracial couples?”
Jackson decided to move in March, after hearing about Senate Bill 254, which would allow a court to consider a parent’s support of medical treatment for their child’s gender dysphoria as “serious physical harm” in a custody case. It’s among the three bills to pass the House on Thursday and is headed to a Senate vote.
She’ll join her wife, who already lives up north, in Springfield, Illinois.
The rhetoric she’s heard from some Florida politicians has been particularly painful, she said, because of the way it echoes her own history.
After she came out at age 30, Jackson said, her family fought to take away custody of her three children.
“I wish people would, please, remember we’re human,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to hurt your babies. We just want them to be accepted for who they are.”