NAACP issues travel advisory for ‘openly hostile’ Florida

Tampa and St. Petersburg mayors pledge to continue championing diversity and welcoming all visitors.
Visitors explore the beach at sunset on Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Mexico Beach. On Saturday, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida.
Visitors explore the beach at sunset on Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Mexico Beach. On Saturday, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 21|Updated May 21

The NAACP, citing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools,” is urging travelers to rethink trips to the state.

“Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color,” reads the organization’s formal travel advisory, announced Saturday.

Initially put forward to the national board of directors by the NAACP’s Florida State Conference, the advisory stems from what the organization describes as “unrelenting attacks on fundamental freedoms” from the governor.

Last week, DeSantis signed legislation that prohibits Florida schools from spending any state or federal funding on most programs or campus activities that advocate for diversity and inclusion policies, part of a slate of higher education reforms he says are aimed to curb so-called “woke” ideology on campuses.

DeSantis previously signed legislation restricting how workplaces and schools can discuss race and blocked an Advanced Placement African American Studies course in the state’s public schools, claiming it lacked “educational value.”

An email was sent Sunday morning to the governor’s office seeking comment.

In response to the advisory, the mayor of Tampa assured prospective visitors they would be received with “open arms.”

“Diversity and inclusion are central to what makes Tampa one of America’s greatest and friendliest cities,” Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement Sunday morning. “That will never change, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee.”

The city is reaching out to several upcoming convention groups to “make sure they understand the reality of Tampa’s welcoming climate,” according to communications director Adam Smith.

Across the bay in St. Petersburg, Mayor Ken Welch said in a statement that the NAACP, “along with people from every race, religion and background, can count on the City of St. Petersburg as a true champion for diversity.”

“We are intentional with our work to make St. Pete a shining example of bridge-building, collaboration, Intentional Equity, and respect for all,” Welch said.

The travel advisory comes after Florida reported a record tourism year, with an estimated 137.6 million visitors in 2022 — up nearly 13% from 2021.

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s tourism arm, declined to comment. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater could not be reached for comment Sunday morning.

The NAACP, warning Florida is “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” joins a handful of civil rights groups that have recently advised DeSantis’ policies make travel to the state a risky proposition.

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The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the oldest Hispanic civil rights groups in the U.S., issued a warning last week advising immigrants to avoid traveling to Florida ahead of a new immigration law set to go into effect this summer.

Equality Florida issued a similar advisory in April, which the advocacy organization called an “unprecedented step” prompted by “hateful laws” and subsequent inquiries about whether travel to the state would be safe.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition flagged the entire state as high risk for potential detainment and family separation and issued a similar warning earlier this year, saying bluntly: “Traveling to Florida is dangerous.”

The NAACP’s travel advisory was initially proposed to the board of directors by the organization’s Florida chapter at their March state conference.

“They say Florida is the free state,” Hillsborough County NAACP President Yvette Lewis told the Times Sunday. “But African Americans are not really free in the state of Florida.”

Saturday’s announcement is not the first time the NAACP has issued a travel advisory or boycott for a state.

In 1999, the organization called for a boycott of South Carolina because the state flew the Confederate flag on capitol grounds. In 2017, the organization declared a travel advisory for Missouri when the state Legislature passed a law the state chapter had deemed allowed for “legal discrimination.”

Advisories and boycotts have historically been a means of creating economic pressure, by denying tourism dollars to states seen as unsafe to people of color. Lewis hopes the advisory will bring sustained national attention and pressure to the governor and Republican Legislature to account for what she said is an urgent civil rights situation unfolding across the state.

“Why do they feel the need to treat African Americans like this in the state of Florida? Banning our books, restricting teachers from teaching African American history, true history, and also removing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, why?” Lewis said. “Why, Gov. DeSantis? Why?”