Why LGBTQ2 advocates are advising against travel to some U.S. states

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Why LGBTQ2 advocates are advising against travel to some U.S. states
WATCH: Why LGBTQ2 advocates are advising against travel to some U.S. states – May 24, 2023

Advocates of the LGBTQ2 community are cautioning about living in or travelling to various “hostile” U.S. states as multiple bills they call “anti-LGBTQ+” are being passed.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several bills into law that would ban gender-affirming care for minors, restrict pronoun use in schools and force people to use the bathroom corresponding with their birth gender in some cases.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, about 490 bills they say are targeting the rights of the community were being tracked, though not all will necessarily pass.

As a result of the passage of such bills in Florida, Equality Florida (EF) recently took the step to issue a “travel advisory” detailing the risks of relocation or travel to the state.

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“(It’s) just simply warning folks to the potential risks and discontinuation of certain freedoms they would see if they relocated to the state or even travelled here temporarily,” EF’s special projects manager, Carlos Guillermo Smith, told Global News.

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The advisory specifically noted the impacts of the legislation including the ban on gender-affirming care, as well as the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On May 23, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced it was issuing its own travel advisory.

“Those who pick another place to work, to go to school or to spend their vacation should make clear why they’re not heading to Florida,” HRC president Kelley Robinson said in a statement.

The U.S.-based group has millions of members and advocates for LGBTQ2 rights and equality.

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Part of the idea behind issuing travel advisories is not only to warn about the impact on the LGBTQ2 community, but to warn of broader safety issues such as those impacted by restrictions on abortion, as well as the risks posed by recent legislation allowing for permitless carrying of firearms.

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“It’s really important for folks to understand the new laws, educate themselves on the varied risks and make an informed decision,” Guillermo Smith said.

“Especially those LGBTQ communities, the marginalized communities, immigrant folks, people of color, understanding that a hostile environment has been created here in the state of Florida.”

After signing the bills, DeSantis said the legislation was to “let our kids just be kids.”

“I think there’s a lot of emphasis in other parts of the country and our society as a whole to take that away from them and we’re not going to let that happen here in Florida,” he said.

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Tennessee also raised concerns among advocates earlier this year following the passage of its own bill that banned gender-affirming care for minors as well as policies that appear to target transgender people.

Now, youth waning to access such medical care as a teenager would need to leave the state.

Some advocates north of the Canada-U.S. border are also expressing concern about the string of bills, with Egale Canada advising Canadians to educate themselves before travelling to places that may have restrictions that impact the LGBTQ2 community.

“Each individual needs to be vigilant and take the precautions and do their homework before they travel anywhere, whether it’s in Florida or it’s a small town in Canada or even coming to a larger centre,” Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday.

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She said that while members of the community have come to know where it’s safe “to be who we are,” weighing those questions is even more important in light of the legislation now in place.

Both Kennedy and Guillermo Smith called on governments at the federal and local levels to take more steps to protect communities — including a travel advisory for some U.S. states.

Kennedy said such a warning should be “at a minimum.”

Global Affairs Canada has issued travel advisories specifically around threats to members of the LGBTQ2 community before, including for Uganda.

“Individuals from the 2SLGBTQI+ community have been attacked and harassed based on their identity and sexual orientation. Violent incidents have increased since the Parliament passed an “anti-homosexuality” bill in March 2023,” the warning states.

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“2SLGBTQI+ travellers should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Uganda.”

In an email to Global News, Global Affairs Canada did not say whether officials will weigh a similar warning, noting states like Florida or Tennessee in the travel advice it issues for the U.S.

“Foreign laws and customs related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics can be very different from those in Canada,” the department said. “As a result, LGTBQ2 travellers could face certain barriers and risks when travelling outside Canada.”

The Global Affairs Canada website lists the U.S. as a place for people to take “normal security cautions.”

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In response to a similar request to Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien’s office about the minister’s reaction to the legislation, spokesperson Johise Namwira said that the government would continue to support the 2SLGBTQI+ community.

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Travel advisories, Guillermo Smith noted, could carry economic impacts.

He pointed to the recent decision by Walt Disney Co. to scrap plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from southern California, amid its ongoing dispute with DeSantis.

The feud started after Disney publicly opposed Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

“These are the consequences of creating this hostile environment that is exclusionary, that is divisive, that is hateful,” Guillermo Smith said. “It’s not only ruining people’s lives, these culture wars in Florida, it’s also costing jobs and tanking our economy.”

Kennedy warned Canadians should be on guard for any similar trickle-effect north of the border.

“The queer community in the Americas needs to band together and globally,” she said. “We need to band together and to counter this rhetoric and get ahead of it.”

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