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Florida NAACP seeks travel advisory over controversial legislation, policies

The travel advisory would come as a slew of bills targeting discussions on race and gender identity move through the legislature.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The NAACP Florida State Conference voted unanimously Saturday, seeking permission from its national headquarters to issue a travel advisory for the state of Florida over what it called "draconian" legislation and practices related to race and gender.

“We would issue this to anyone who is thinking of coming to Florida, thinking of sending their children to school — anyone planning to breathe in Florida,” chair of legislative affairs for the NAACP Florida State Conference Marsha Ellison told 10 Investigates. “We want people to be 'woke.'"

The travel advisory would come as a slew of bill discussions on race and gender identity move through the legislature.

One of the bills, HB 1223, in the Florida legislature, would expand on the controversial "Parental Bill of Rights." Should the bill pass, it would prohibit teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity through middle school, and only allow "age-appropriate" instruction in high school. Under the current law — dubbed by critics as "Don't Say Gay" — instruction on these topics is prohibited in public schools from kindergarten through third grade.

Research conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that hateful references to people who are gay, lesbian and those who identify with LGBTQ surged online after Florida passed the "Parental Rights" bill, according to a report from the Associated Press. Those who oppose the legislation fear the law will marginalize the LGBTQ community.

The sought-after travel advisory would also come on the heels of a national controversy over the state’s rejection of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course. The state said it “lacked educational value.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Black History is taught in Florida schools as its part of the core curriculum, however, the AP African American Studies course proposed was "indoctrination, not education."

DeSantis called out other topics in the proposed course including queer theory, intersectionality and abolishing prisons, calling the course a "political agenda."

The College Board fired back against the Florida Department of Education calling their characterization of course materials “slander” and politically motivated.

A bill, HB 999, to ban state colleges and universities from using funds to "promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities that espouse diversity, equity, or inclusion (DEI) or Critical Race Theory rhetoric" advanced in the Florida state House. Should the bill become law, it would also give the state's board of governors the ability to remove "any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory," CBS News reports.

Those in opposition to the bill believe the language in the text is too vague and could negatively impact activities promoted by multicultural student unions, Black fraternities and sororities and courses in Jewish history, women's studies and LGBTQ+ studies, the outlet reports. However, lawmakers say the bill doesn't apply to them.

"[We are] very concerned with the state of mind that the state of Florida is moving into when it comes to...the bills that are being presented in the state of Florida," said Hillsborough NAACP president Yvette Lewis, who was present for Saturday's vote.

According to both Lewis and Ellison, the national office must give approval before the NAACP Florida State Conference can release a travel advisory. Ellison said it would address “all of the draconian laws that have been passed over the last few years and what's on deck that may pass this session.”

A travel advisory of this nature harkens back to the days of the Negro Motorist Green Book, which compiled safe locations for African Americans to dine and lodge during the Jim Crow era.

"We will issue that out to everyone nationwide so they will know what's going on here and how our people are being treated in the state of Florida," Lewis said. "And we're gonna let them make their decision on if they want to come to the state of Florida.

If approved, this would not be the first travel advisory from a statewide NAACP chapter.

The Missouri NAACP issued a travel advisory back in 2017 after the legislature passed a bill the president of the chapter said was a potential civil rights violation.

"It's time to speak up and say something because they are rolling us back," Lewis said. "And if you don't know your history, it's bound to repeat itself."

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

10 Tampa Bay's Parisa Akbarpour contributed to this article.

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