ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The NAACP over the weekend issued a travel advisory for Florida, joining two other civil rights groups in warning potential tourists that recent laws and policies championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”
The NAACP, long an advocate for Black Americans, joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the Sunshine State, where tourism is one of the state's largest job sectors.
The warning approved Saturday by the NAACP's board of directors tells tourists that, before traveling to Florida, they should understand the state of Florida "devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”
An email was sent Sunday morning to DeSantis' office seeking comment. The Republican governor is expected to announce a run for the GOP presidential nomination this week.
Florida is one of the most popular states in the U.S. for tourists, and tourism is one of its biggest industries. More than 137.5 million tourists visited Florida last year, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism promotion agency. Tourism supports 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, and visitors spent $98.8 billion in Florida in 2019, the last year figures are available.
Several of Florida's Democratic mayors were quick to say Sunday that their cities welcomed diversity and inclusion.
“EVERYONE is always welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch tweeted in a message echoed by the mayor across the bay in Tampa.
“That will never change, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted.
The NAACP's decision comes after the DeSantis administration in January rejected the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers also have pressed forward with measures that ban state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as critical race theory, and also passed the Stop WOKE Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses.
In its warning for Hispanic travelers considering a visit to Florida, LULAC cited a new law that prohibits local governments from providing money to organizations that issue identification cards to people illegally in the country and invalidates out-of-state driver’s licenses held by undocumented immigrants, among other things. The law also requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms, which critics have said is intended to dissuade immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from seeking medical care.
“The actions taken by Governor DeSantis have created a shadow of fear within communities across the state,” Lydia Medrano, a LULAC vice president for the Southeast region, said.
Recent efforts to limit discussion on LGBTQ topics in schools, the removal of books with gay characters from school libraries, a recent ban on gender-affirming care for minors, new restrictions on abortion access and a law allowing Floridians to carry concealed guns without a permit contributed to Equality Florida's warning.
“Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state,” Equality Florida's advisory said.
Meantime, the governor's office is doubling down on his March response, calling the NAACP advisory a "stunt," adding Florida is seeing record travel tourism.
His supporters also point to research that shows Florida boasts the highest number of Black-owned businesses of any state in the country.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce backs up the data, in a statement provided to 10 Tampa Bay they say, “Regarding the national group’s notice to certain travelers, we have no comment. However, on the economic diversification front, in just the last few years, Florida has moved into the No. 1 spot in the United States for black-owned businesses and No. 2 for Hispanic and No. 2 for women-owned businesses.”