Florida is about more than Ron DeSantis | Editorial
Civil rights organizations call for travel boycott in response to state’s Republican agenda
Civil rights organizations have issued travel warnings for Florida in response to a rash of legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Civil rights organizations have issued travel warnings for Florida in response to a rash of legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 24

We’re not sure how many tourists will avoid Florida in protest of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture wars, but the NAACP’s warning this month ought to come with one important reminder: There is more to Florida than Ron DeSantis. The Democratic mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg sent that important message by highlighting the inclusiveness of communities across the state.

The civil rights organization cited the Republican governor’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs” in urging travelers to rethink trips to the Sunshine 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,” the group’s advisory, announced Saturday, reads.

The move follows a flurry of action by DeSantis to appeal to the Republican base as he readies an expected entry, as early as today, into the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In recent weeks, DeSantis has signed legislation to prohibit Florida schools from spending money on most diversity and inclusion programs, and to restrict discussions of race and the teaching of some topics in Florida’s colleges and universities.

But as the Times’ Olivia George reported, local leaders used this opportunity to underscore the state’s diversity. In response to the NAACP advisory, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor assured would-be 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,” Castor said in a statement Sunday. “That will never change, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee.” Across the bay, 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.” These were timely expressions that embraced the ideal of equal treatment, acknowledged the value of tourism and reflected well on their constituents.

The NAACP is only the latest civil rights organization to mount a public backlash against DeSantis’ policies. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest and oldest Latino civil rights group, issued a similar warning last week ahead of a new state crackdown on immigrants that takes effect this summer. Equality Florida, which advocates for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community, warned in April that Florida may not be a safe place to visit or relocate. That advisory followed a declaration by the Florida Immigrant Coalition that the entire state was dangerous, with the group urging that travelers show “extreme caution,” particularly people of color, the LGBTQ+ community “and individuals who speak with an accent.”

These advisories are largely symbolic, as even full-fledged boycotts take time to build economic pressure. And as a practical matter, most tourists often base their travel decisions on past experience, family ties or budget. Travel to Florida is booming; Florida reported a record tourism year in 2022, and that trend is continuing. Tourism during the first quarter of 2023 was up nearly 7% from a year ago, as another record high number of travelers flocked to the state.

Still, the advisories reflect the politics of the moment and the key concerns of major constituent groups. To that end, the reassuring words from Castor and Welch help temper the blowback and, more importantly, reflect the welcoming nature of their communities. The policies from Tallahassee are a turnoff, but they hardly define the entirety of the state or the character of millions who live here.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.