Recently New York City Mayor Eric Adams took advantage of the plight of LGBT people upset by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to promote his city.
Adams partnered with advertising firm Kinetic to erect digital billboards in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach that describe the Big Apple as a queer Mecca. “This political showmanship of attempting to demonize a particular group or community is unacceptable,” said the mayor, referring to “Don’t Say Gay.” “We are going to loudly show our support and say to those living in Florida, ‘Listen, we want you here in New York.’” The ads, which invite us to “come to the city where you can say whatever you want,” are good promotions for Gotham and also, in the words of New York City Council Member Chi Osse, “a big FU to Governor Ron DeSantis for his lack of leadership and solidarity to the LGBTQ community.” The ads run from April 4 to May 29.
The idea of New York City as a gay paradise is nothing new. For more than a century, queers from Florida and elsewhere have moved to New York, New York for economic opportunity, artistic or intellectual fulfillment or, most importantly, freedom. LGBT-friendly gayborhoods like Greenwich Village, Harlem or parts of Brooklyn welcomed newcomers regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. (Though they were not as supportive of racial or ethnic minorities.) New York City’s queer record was far from perfect: it had more than its share of police raids (remember Stonewall?), anti-LGBT violence as well as run-of-the-mill prejudices. But, compared to other places, in Florida and elsewhere, New York City was the place to be. We made it there when we could not make it anywhere else.
Despite all that, I doubt that Mayor Adams’s hopeful campaign will succeed. At least since 1980, LGBT migration to NYC has been minimal. Like other groups, queer people are more likely to move from New York to Florida than vice versa. (Many of my Florida friends were once New Yorkers.) Despite the antics of Ron DeSantis and his ilk, the Sunshine State’s population keeps growing while the Empire State’s population keeps shrinking. This is due to a variety of reasons, like Florida’s warm weather or its lack of a state income tax. Many newly arrived Floridians were stationed in Florida or visited this state during their vacations, liked what they saw, and returned to stay. Others just refused to leave. We do not want to buy winter clothes or pay state taxes. And while we are justly upset by the hateful and repressive laws that come out of Tallahassee, we are not angry enough to pack up and leave. I know I am not. (I know this contradicts an anti-Florida article that I wrote a while ago, but I can hate Florida and still love it.)
Perhaps DeSantis thought his laws will give him the best of both worlds. His Trumper base will love them while LGBT Floridians and our allies will just ignore it. After all, he thought, they will only affect a few prepubescent kids, their teachers, and trans girls who seek to compete in high school or college sports. DeSantis could not have been more wrong. What hurts one of us hurts all of us, and the rights of a trans girl of color are as important to this cisgender Cuban man as it is to them. I will not pack up and move to New York City, as tempting as it might be. But I will continue to fight like hell for the rights of all Floridians, despite our state government’s ongoing campaign against us.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.