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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis moves to eliminate Disney’s status in special session

“Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies without thoughts of the ramifications”

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During a press conference Tuesday, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he had expanded the special session of the state legislature, which was meeting next week to rework and approve congressional re-districting maps, to include eliminating the 1967 law that allows the Walt Disney World Resort property to operate as a self-governing body.

“I am announcing today that we are expanding the call of what they are going to be considering this week,’’ DeSantis said at a news conference in The Villages, a massive master planned retirement community  that sprawls over Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties located approximately 45 miles northwest of Orlando.

“Yes, they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968 — and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for the land of the Walt Disney World Resort. It includes 39.06 sq mi within the outer limits of Orange and Osceola counties and acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

DeSantis and the media conglomerate locked horns over the Disney Company’s public denouncement of  H.B. 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” colloquially known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, that DeSantis signed into law last month.

A spokesperson for the Disney Company had issued a statement condemning the legislation.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

The governor in response to Disney told reporters:

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest, but two, I think that crossed the line.”

Taking aim at Disney corporate leadership including its CEO Bob Chapek he added:

“This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of Florida, it is not based on the demands of California corporate executives,” he continued. “They do not run this state, they do not control this state.”

The governor’s call to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District at the beginning of this month was amplified by state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-Fort Myers, a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman, who is licensed to practice law in Florida and Texas, is opposed to abortion and also introduced legislation targeting what he terms “cancel culture” on the campuses of universities and colleges in the state, HB 233.

In the wake of the governor’s announcement Tuesday, a Republican politician and former gambling industry executive from Brevard County, state Rep. Randy Fine tweeted:

“Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them. @GovDeSantis just expanded the Special Session so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50 yr-old special statute that makes Disney to exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.”

A legislative source speaking on background told the Blade Tuesday that its doubtful that DeSantis and his allies realize the massive burden that will be thrust onto the governments of Orange and Osceola counties. “Consider things such as zoning, sewage, taxation, waste removal, and the loss of money provided by Reedy Creek/Disney for fire-police, and other critical key governmental elements that the company has established in contracts,” the source noted.

“The obvious consideration is that Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies without thoughts of the ramifications- economic alone, and the long term damages created to the state and all Floridians as a result,” the source added.

According to historical documents from the Reedy Creek Improvement District, then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk signed the RCID Act into law in May 1967, creating two municipalities: Bay Lake and Reedy Creek, which was later renamed Lake Buena Vista. The location, nestled between Orange and Osceola counties, would later become the site where Walt Disney World was built.

The RCID Charter created a 25,000-acre of land as a special taxing district. At the time, it was considered remote and uninhabitable, but now is the site of one of the busiest theme parks in the United States.

To make Disney’s plan happen, the area had to get special privileges from the state of Florida to essentially run itself.

“In 1967, the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government,” RCID says on its website.

DeSantis announces expanded special session targeting Walt Disney World property:

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Florida

AP Psychology course will remain unchanged in Fla.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., abruptly changed course last week

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

In an abrupt reversal, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., sent a letter to the state’s Superintendent’s Association late Friday reversing Thursday’s notice that the Advanced Placement psychology course curriculum must be scrubbed of its gender and human sexuality unit in order to continue being taught in Florida classrooms.

In his letter to the state superintendents, Diaz said the state believed the psychology course could be taught “in its entirety.”

Charged by critics as censorship of course content, the Florida Department of Education initially maintained that teaching the AP course’s lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, are topics forbidden by the state’s new laws known colloquially as the “Stop Woke Act” and “Don’t Say Gay” signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year.

In a statement after Diaz’s actions on Thursday barring the AP course, the College Board, the non-profit organization that oversees the AP Program, SAT Suite and other programs for public and private high school students seeking to attend college, issued a statement that read: “We are sad to have learned that today the Florida Department of Education has effectively banned AP Psychology in the state by instructing Florida superintendents that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law.” 

The College Board then instructed Florida’s high schools to not offer the course unless it was taught to students in full.

The Associated Press reported the College Board refused to modify the psychology course to comply with Florida’s new legislation. The course asks students to describe how sex and gender influence a person’s development — topics that have been part of the curriculum since it launched 30 years ago.

In standing firm against pressure from Florida officials, the College Board has acknowledged missteps in the way it handled the African American studies curriculum.

“We have learned from our mistakes in the recent rollout of AP African American Studies and know that we must be clear from the outset where we stand,” the non-profit said.

After the Florida Department of Education’s reversal, the College Board said it hoped teachers now will be able “to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming school year.”

In response to the decision by Diaz to allow high school Advanced Placement Psychology to be taught “in its entirety,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association said in a statement:

“The Florida Department of Education has done the right thing by agreeing that Advanced Placement Psychology may be taught ‘in its entirety,’ without censoring information on sexual orientation and gender identity. This decision puts students and science ahead of politics. Florida students have been taught AP Psychology in an age and developmentally appropriate way for the last 25 years and we are pleased that will continue.”

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Fla. bans Advanced Placement psychology class in high schools

Lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity prompted decision

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The College Board, the non-profit organization that oversees the AP Program, SAT Suite, and BigFuture programs for public and private high school students seeking to attend college, announced Thursday that Florida will not allow public school students to take Advanced Placement psychology, because the course includes lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Florida Department of Education sent a notice to the state’s Superintendent’s Association Thursday that AP Psychology must be scrubbed of its gender and human sexuality unit in order to continue being taught in Florida classrooms as lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, are topics forbidden by the state’s new laws known colloquially as the “Stop Woke Act” and “Don’t Say Gay” signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year.

This censorship of course content will result in students being denied AP designation and, as a result, the college credit earned for completing the course. The move also comes as the DeSantis administration doubles down on its whitewashing of African American history and peddling of lies about enslaved people “benefiting” from chattel slavery.

The Orlando Sentinel reported the state banning AP classes is taking place a week before school starts in many districts. According to the Sentinel, about 5,000 Central Florida students and about 27,000 statewide may not be able to take a class they signed up to tackle in the 2023-2024 school year.

“We are sad to have learned that today the Florida Department of Education has effectively banned AP Psychology in the state by instructing Florida superintendents that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law,” the College Board said in a statement.

Equality Florida issued the following statement:

“The DeSantis regime is at war with students and parents, censoring more AP curriculum and denying students the opportunity to earn college credit. The administration has already stated that the AP African American Studies course ‘lacks significant educational value,’ instead preferring to falsely applaud slavery as an American jobs program. 

Now, the DeSantis administration wants to rewrite AP Psychology curriculum to enforce their image of America, too. Gov. DeSantis will undermine any student’s education, revoke any parent’s rights, and demolish any curriculum to remake Florida’s schools into right wing propaganda machines in service to his political ambitions. His administration continues to use families and classrooms as pawns and do catastrophic damage to this state and its reputation.” 

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Florida

Anti-trans laws left out of Fla. Democrats’ ‘10 Bad Bills’

Bathroom statute took effect July 1

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President Joe Biden chats with former Florida Agriculture Commissioner and current Florida Democrats Chair Nikki Fried, at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2022, regarding federal response and state recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

A spokesperson for the Florida Democratic Party tells the Washington Blade it vows to fight for the repeal of that state’s anti-transgender bathroom bill, which went into effect July 1, after being called out for not counting any anti-trans legislation among “10 Bad Bills” the party recently shared on its social media accounts. 

But in the 17 days since the laws went on the books, the Florida Democrats still haven’t made a single social media statement regarding those anti-trans laws. Their last post on the party’s official website even mentioning the trans community was on June 22, after a federal judge blocked Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care, as the Blade reported.

On July 1 and 2, the state Democrats’ official Twitter and Instagram accounts shared a two-page graphic that listed 10 pieces of Republican-supported legislation that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law and is now in effect, laws that Florida Democrats said “take away immigration, health care, education and workers’ rights, threatening our safety and freedom.” 

On July 5, YouTuber and photographer Melody Maia Monet from Orlando alerted her Instagram followers of the Florida Democrats’ glaring omission of any mention of anti-transgender legislation, including the new law that prohibits her and every trans person from using the public bathroom matching their authentic gender identity. 

“Notice what’s missing? Yeah the horrifically discriminatory anti-trans bathroom ban, that’s what,” Monet wrote. “Guess we are too insignificant to fit into the top 10 or mess up the symmetry to make it a list of 11. Also WTF with calling them ‘preferred pronouns.’ We dropped that language some time ago because our pronouns aren’t a ‘preference.’” 

Melody Maia Monet (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

State Sen. Shevrin Jones of West Park weighed-in on Monet’s post, saying, “Moving forward we will take a double take on things being shared. But, the info shared still stands. These bills listed and so many other bills are harmful to/for Floridians.” 

“Nobody is disputing the terribleness of these bills, but this isn’t an either/or situation,” responded Monet. “Dropping the ball on the beginning of gender identity-based Jim Crow for trans Floridians is a stunning oversight and deserves more than an ‘oops, we’ll do better.’ It confirms our worst fears that FL Dems won’t fight for us as a party because trans people aren’t considered a ‘winning issue’ as we were told by the party during the midterms. And to be clear, others have brought this particular oversight to party leadership and got no response. As trans Floridians we deserve better and more accountability.”

Following that exchange, the Blade reached out to Florida Democrats, via social media and email, requesting a comment, and information about whether the party employed any queer staff who might have noted the omission. We received no response until Tuesday, when a spokesperson claimed in an email that the anti-trans laws were deliberately left out because of pending legal action, and blaming the “format” of the graphic it created for its post.

“Due to the limited nature of the format, we chose to highlight the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ expansion because the worst of the anti-trans bills are currently being challenged in the courts,” the party spokesperson wrote. That claim was swiftly exposed as inaccurate, which led the spokesperson to call the Blade on Wednesday to withdraw their original response and email a new one: 

“We will continue to be a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ communities and the repeal of Florida’s anti-trans bathroom bill as we approach the upcoming legislative session,” said the spokesperson for the Florida Democrats in their revised response. “Florida is on the frontlines of our fight for freedom and democracy and hundreds of laws passed by this conservative supermajority legislature took effect on July 1, 2023. It is our role as a party to continue to be vocal as the consequences of these extreme and dangerous laws unravel.” 

But as of publication of this article, there still isn’t anything on the Florida Democrats’ website or their social media accounts backing up that statement. 

However, the party did post something on social media last Wednesday, including Facebook, celebrating Nonbinary Awareness Week, which the spokesperson said was delayed due to its concentration on responding to the state’s property insurance crisis. 

“It was pushed back to later in the week,” the spokesperson told the Blade, but remained on what they called the party’s “content calendar.” When the spokesperson was reminded, “Nonbinary Floridians own property, too,” the post celebrating their special week appeared not long after. 

As for queer personnel, the Blade learned from an internal source who asked not to be identified that the party’s staff does include at least one gender nonconforming individual, whose identity was concealed for privacy reasons.

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