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‘Pride still goes on’ for trans Floridians after sports law, budget cuts

St. Pete Pride returns as transgender people find themselves targeted by a wave of restrictive laws in Florida and across the nation.
Smiling faces and bright colors are seen behind a wall of bubbles and foam being sprayed to the crowd during the Tampa Pride Diversity Parade, on Saturday, May 22, 2021 in Ybor City
Smiling faces and bright colors are seen behind a wall of bubbles and foam being sprayed to the crowd during the Tampa Pride Diversity Parade, on Saturday, May 22, 2021 in Ybor City [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 5
Updated Jun. 7

Andrew Adams is going to spend Pride month being a little more kind to himself. That means gardening, carving out time for friends, going to therapy — and trying to stay off social media.

The news for transgender people like Adams has been particularly difficult. Bills have been introduced in 31 states targeting transgender youth, banning them from playing sports and receiving gender-affirming health care, according to the Human Rights Campaign. They have been signed into law in 10 states, including Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a transgender sports bill on Tuesday — the first day of Pride Month — that bars such women and girls, who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, from playing high school girls’ and college women’s sports.

On the second day of Pride, he vetoed all funding for LGBTQ services in the state budget, including $150,000 for Orlando United Assistance Center, which connects mental health services to Pulse nightclub shooting survivors and victims’ families. DeSantis did so days before the fifth anniversary of the Orlando massacre that killed 49 and wounded 53 others.

“It’s definitely not your average Pride season,” said Adams, 20.

Related: DeSantis signs controversial transgender athlete bill; legal challenges likely

The University of Central Florida psychology student has fought his own battles. He spent his high school years fighting the St. Johns County School Board, which barred him from using the boys’ bathroom. He won last year when a federal appellate court ruled transgender students must be allowed equal access to restrooms that match their gender identity.

But now, as bills impacting transgender people advance across the country, he’s logging off Twitter to protect his mental health from the constant barrage of grim news.

When politics comes up in conversations with friends, he said, “we don’t linger on the subject too often.”

Still, Adams says, there are reasons to celebrate Pride this month — events the pandemic canceled last year — as a way to keep spirits up in dark times.

“If there’s one thing queer people know how to do,” he said, “it’s have a good time.”

Andrew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in December 2019. Adams sued the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom and prevailed in a 2020 ruling.
Andrew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in December 2019. Adams sued the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom and prevailed in a 2020 ruling. [ RON HARRIS | AP ]

St. Pete Pride’s festivities resume this weekend, but reimagined as St. Pete PrideFest, a series of themed weekends, events and celebrations held across June. The signature parade that drew an estimated 265,000 people in 2019 was canceled last year and this year for health safety.

In the bay area, Pride got off to an early start in Ybor City last month with Tampa Pride, one of the first LGBTQ celebrations to be held since 2019 after the coronavirus canceled last year’s Pride events.

“The energy was just overwhelming,” said Trevor James, president of PFLAG Tampa, the local affiliate of a national organization supporting friends and family of LGBTQ people. “Through all the adversity, there are these little pockets of light that we get.”

The festivities gave the community a space to breathe, he said. Soon after, the governor signed the transgender sports bill, which does not apply to elementary school youth or transgender boys, and slashed state funding for LGBTQ programs.

In addition to Orlando’s LGBTQ Center, the cuts include $750,000 for the Zebra Coalition, an organization working to reduce homelessness among LGBTQ youth in Central Florida.

“It’s not a fight for trans people to fight,” James said. “It’s a fight for allies.”

After all the effort, organizing and work put in by the LGBTQ community and its allies, he said, “with the stroke of a pen it feels like it all goes away.”

Florida’s bills and budget cuts come at a time when transgender people are particularly vulnerable. At least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and this year is on track to surpass the 44 fatalities recorded last year.

A 2020 survey of LGBTQ youth shows that more than 85 percent of the more than 40,000 respondents said anti-trans politics has negatively impacted their well-being, according to a Trevor Project survey. In 2019, more than 1 in 5 of the transgender and nonbinary respondents said they attempted suicide, according to the same survey.

Although legislation like Florida’s transgender sports ban is likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds, advocates still fear the message it sends to LGBTQ youth.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a May 4 news conference at West Miami Middle School in Miami.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a May 4 news conference at West Miami Middle School in Miami. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | AP ]

That timing, said Equality Florida director of transgender equality Gina Duncan, is no coincidence.

“All of this sends a very clear message,” Duncan said. “Transgender and nonbinary Floridians feel that we are certainly not welcome in the state of Florida.”

But Duncan said the heightened sense of vulnerability has galvanized the community. The transgender and nonbinary community continues to grow as people come out at younger ages, and their parents speak out in ways they never have before.

“People want to be visible,” Duncan said.

A group of attendees listen to a speaker during the #ProtectTransKids rally outside Orlando City Hall on Tuesday. Several dozen supporters and activists listened to speakers and chanted in protest of SB 1028, sweeping legislation signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier that day banning transgender youth from participating in school athletics.
A group of attendees listen to a speaker during the #ProtectTransKids rally outside Orlando City Hall on Tuesday. Several dozen supporters and activists listened to speakers and chanted in protest of SB 1028, sweeping legislation signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier that day banning transgender youth from participating in school athletics.

That wasn’t always the case. Morgan Mayfaire remembers the attendees at Miami’s first Gay Pride Parade in 1978 hiding their faces behind paper bags to remain anonymous. Holding onto their jobs and families meant not being seen at a celebration — or protest — for LGTBQ rights.

In the decades since, Pride events and parades have morphed into a celebration of self-affirmation and visibility for the community.

Today, “people go to Pride boldly,” said Mayfaire, now 62 and executive director of TransSOCIAL, Inc., a South Florida organization that promotes unity within the LGBTQ community. These days Pride is more colorful, Mayfaire said, and frankly more fun than the early years. There are T-shirts and beads thrown everywhere. Couples bring their kids. And there are resources for the community, where patrons can find companies who employe transgender folks and gender-affirming doctors.

Pride has also become more accepting for different groups within the community, he said, like people of color, who find themselves at the intersections of discrimination based on sexuality, race and gender.

“It’s probably more important now than it has been in a long time,” he said.

Smiling faces and bright colors are seen along the route of the 2021 Tampa Pride Diversity Parade on May 22, 2021 in Ybor City.
Smiling faces and bright colors are seen along the route of the 2021 Tampa Pride Diversity Parade on May 22, 2021 in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Pride celebrations absorb the moment and the mood. In 2015, the St. Pete Pride parade was a joyous celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

The next year, it was a time to mourn the victims of the 2016 attack on Pulse nightclub. The single deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ Americans took place on Latin night, and most of the victims were Latino.

Now, 2021 Pride comes amid the pandemic and the wave of laws targeting transgender people. This year’s celebrations may take on more than one meaning.

“Pride still goes on,” Mayfaire said, adding: “We will continue to fight.”

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.

A Pride flag seen Tuesday outside St. Petersburg City Hall in celebration of Pride month.
A Pride flag seen Tuesday outside St. Petersburg City Hall in celebration of Pride month. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]