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National Trans Visibility March steps off in Orlando on its way to L.A.

Event usually takes place in D.C.

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Marchers paraded through Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2021, as part of the National Trans Visibility March, the first one to be held outside of D.C. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

By DAWN ENNIS | ORLANDO, Fla. — Hundreds of out transgender people and allies from across Florida and from as far away as Southern California gathered in Orlando Saturday to rally and to march, demanding justice, equality and acceptance. 

Chanting, “Trans Solidarity,” and “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Transphobia Has Got To Go!” participants in the 3rd annual National Trans Visibility March stepped off for their first march to be held outside Washington, D.C. This was also the first in-person parade since last year’s march was held mostly virtually, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are so many of us who feel excluded from our cities and our communities,” said Ariel Savage of Riverside, Calif. 

“Visibility and support is crucial,” declared Savage, 24, in one of the stirring speeches to the crowd at a rally on the shores of Orlando’s Lake Eola, just prior to the march. “We are here today at the National Trans Visibility March because we are real and we have had enough!”

Ariel Savage delivers a speech prior to the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday. (Video by Dawn Ennis)

“It just goes to showcase the collective love that we, as trans people, have for each other, and that even in a world that excludes us and locks doors on us, we keep marching and we keep breaking those doors down every day,” Savage later told the Los Angeles Blade. She’s the policy director at TruEvolution, a Riverside-based nonprofit focused on racial justice and providing health services and emergency housing for LGBTQ+ people. “The Inland Empire has a lot of work to do,” she said, calling it “not necessarily the most accepting environment.” This was her first visit to Orlando.  

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many trans people in one place before,” Savage said. “It feels very beautiful to be in a place where I’m not scared and I just feel excited and happy and at peace.”

Flynn, left, was accompanied by his mother, Michelle and her cousin, Rochelle, at the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Flynn, who is 14 and from Orlando, held a sign decorated in the blue, white and pink colors of the transgender flag that said, “I’m so proud to be me.” He marched with his mother, Michelle, and her cousin Rochelle, who is lesbian. Flynn said he’d known he was a trans boy since sixth grade but only recently came out to his mom. “Of course, I was confused, at first,” said Michelle, of Orlando. “But since then, I have educated myself and I’ve joined  parent groups and I support him fully.” 

Florida’s ban on trans student-athletes and similar laws in eight other states are worrisome for Flynn’s family, his mother said. “It does worry me as a mom, because I want to protect my kids. But I also want him to be who he is. I think it’s really important as parents to support our children.”

March organizers say they chose both this location, and the weekend of Orlando Pride, to show unity with the larger LGBTQ community. “Orlando has a spirit of heart and love, and we wanted it to be here to celebrate with them,” said NTVM executive director, CEO and founder Marissa Miller.

Marissa Miller, executive director, CEO and founder of the National Trans Visibility March, spoke at the Torch Awards in downtown Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Following the march, members of the transgender community and allies formed a special contingent in the annual LGBTQ Pride Parade through downtown Orlando, holding aloft a huge trans Pride flag.

Transgender marchers and allies held aloft a huge trans Pride flag, designed by Monica Helms, as they joined the LGBTQ Pride Parade in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Josh Bell, executive director of One Orlando Alliance)

Next year, the march moves to Los Angeles, according to Come Out With Pride’s  communications director, YouTuber Melody Maia Monet, who first brought the idea for combining the Orlando events to her board of directors. She’s been out 11 years and said she’s excited to see how Pride has evolved in her adopted hometown of Orlando.

Melody Maia Monet, center, held a sign saying, “Visible 4 Those Who Can’t Be” as she marched in the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“What I really love is that we’re kind of moving away from the binary,” Monet said. “When you walk around this place, not just the National Trans Visibility March area, but all around Lake Eola Park, where we’re having Come Out With Pride, you’ll see people of basically every stripe under the rainbow, you know? So I think that is that is a great thing to see.”

Non-binary marchers took part in the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)
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Florida

Fla. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ ban now applies to K-12 public schools

Rule takes effect in 34 days

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The Florida Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Florida’s Board of Education voted Wednesday to implement a rule that expands the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to now prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through 12th grade in the state’s public schools.

The rule change, which does not require legislative approval, will ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from fourth to 12th grade unless required by state standards or as part of a reproductive health course that parents can opt students out of.

Today’s vote was put forth by the Florida Department of Education, both of which are controlled by appointees of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has publicly stated his opposition to LGBTQ equality and civil rights. The rule goes into effect in 34 days, according to the Florida Department of Education.

LGBTQ advocacy groups and student activist leaders across the state spoke out, including Jack Petocz, a senior at Flagler-Palm Coast High School who had organized and led the statewide protests last spring in opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Petocz tweeted defiantly: “This was NEVER about protecting your children. It’s all an elaborate plan to ERASE people like me from existence. You won’t fucking win.” 

Petocz then noted:

Petocz was also trolled on his Twitter account by a far-right participant of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection who homophobically attacked him:

Joe Saunders, senior political director for the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Florida, released the following statement:

“Let’s put it plainly: this is part of the governor’s assault on freedom. Free states do not ban books. Free states do not censor entire communities out of the classroom. Free states do not wage war on LGBTQ+ people to score cheap political points for a man desperate to be president. This policy will escalate the government censorship that is sweeping our state, exacerbate our educator exodus, drive hardworking families from Florida, and further stigmatize and isolate a population of young people who need our support now more than ever. Shame on the DeSantis administration for putting a target on the backs of LGBTQ+ Floridians.”

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Florida

Trial begins for National Black Justice Coalition CEO on conspiracy, fraud charges

Sharon Lettman-Hicks calls allegations ‘baseless,’ politically motivated

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Sharon Lettman-Hicks (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A trial in federal court in Tallahassee, Fla., began on Monday, April 17, for Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the CEO and board chair of the D.C.-based LGBTQ group National Black Justice Coalition, and former Tallahassee mayor and unsuccessful Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

The trial began about 10 months after a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Florida on June 7, 2022, handed down an indictment charging both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks, who served as a campaign adviser to Gillum, with conspiracy and multiple counts of fraud.

The indictment alleged that Lettman-Hicks and Gillum engaged in an illegal political corruption scheme that began in 2015. It says Lettman-Hicks allegedly helped Gillum improperly funnel money solicited from FBI agents posing as real estate developers with a promise of providing something “very significant in return” for Gillum’s support for the developers in his role at the time as mayor of Tallahassee.

The indictment said much of the money Gillum received from the FBI sting operation went for his personal use through a company Lettman-Hicks operated called P&P communications. It charges both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks with 19 counts of wire fraud and one count of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.   

The Tallahassee-based TV news station WCTV reports that last week, on April 11, prosecutors announced they had obtained a new superseding indictment against Lettman-Hicks and Gillum that includes two fewer charges of wire fraud against the two than the previous indictment. WCTV reports the charges that were dropped both involved wire transfers of $66,250 from “Organization E” to Lettman-Hicks’ company P&P Communications.

Lettman-Hicks and Gillum, who identifies as bisexual, have strongly denied the allegations against them, calling them politically motivated by Republican politicians who dominate the political landscape in Northern Florida.

At the time the first indictment was handed down, Lettman-Hicks, who is based in Tallahassee, had qualified as a Democratic candidate running for a seat in the Florida State House. She immediately withdrew her candidacy after the indictment was issued. 

“I am devastated by these baseless charges, and I have made the painful decision to suspend my campaign,” she said in a press release reported by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. “I must now focus on fighting for my continued freedom,” she said in the release.

Legal observers have pointed out that the FBI’s political corruption investigation that led to Lettman-Hicks and Gillum’s indictment began in 2015 during the Obama administration, which was in charge of appointing the federal prosecutors involved in the case. Some observers note that Florida state prosecutors associated with the GOP-controlled state government do not appear to have been involved in the case.

Lettman-Hicks was listed this week on the National Black Justice Coalition website as the organization’s CEO and board chair. The website says she served as the group’s CEO and executive director from 2009 to 2017, when she stepped down as executive director. It says she has been based in Tallahassee during her tenure with the NBJC.

David Johns, the current NBJC executive director, is based in the organization’s headquarters in D.C.

A spokesperson for the NBJC did not respond to a request on Monday for comment on Lettman-Hicks’ trial that began on Monday.

On its website, NBJC says it has served since its founding in 2003 as “America’s leading national civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+, and same-gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS through coalition building, federal policy change, research, and education.”

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Florida

Miami Beach Pride parade takes place on Ocean Drive

Advocacy groups last week issued travel advisory for Fla.

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The annual Miami Beach Pride parade took place in Miami Beach, Fla., on April 16, 2023. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Yariel Valdés González)

More than 170,000 people attended the annual Miami Beach Pride parade that took place on the city’s Ocean Drive on Sunday.

The parade took place against the backdrop of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed expansion of the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and banning gender-affirming care for transgender children in the state. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is also considering a bill that would prevent children from attending drag shows.

(video by yariel valdÉs gonzález)
(video by yariel valdÉs gonzález)
(video by yariel valdÉs gonzález)

Equality Florida and the Florida Immigrant Coalition last week issued a travel warning for the state.

“As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live work and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms,” said Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. 

State Rep. Fabián Basabe (R-Miami Beach) is among those who participated in the Miami Beach Pride parade. Protesters confronted the Miami Beach Republican over his support of anti-LGBTQ bills in the Florida House of Representatives.

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