Payback time: Fired up South Florida LGBTQ voters take aim at DeSantis

Florida’s LGBTQ community has been in the spotlight this year. With Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and Florida’s Medicaid exclusion of transgender healthcare, many passionate gay and lesbian voters are heading to the polls this midterm election to make their voices heard.  

“I think DeSantis is a psychopath,” said Clara Marens, 55-year-old lesbian. “There are more important issues to be concerned with. Kids are going to grow up how they are supposed to, regardless.” 

Marens is a registered Republican but plans to vote the party line for Democrats on Nov 8. Although she has not been directly affected by any of the changes, Marens said she is voting “for the sake of others who might be.” 

As of 2019, 4.6% of Floridian adults are LGBTQ. Polling by GLSEN released in August showed that 67% of LGBTQ voters and allies believe it is more important than ever to vote “because basic human rights for women and LGBTQ Floridians are being taken away by elected officials.” 

The same poll noted that 77% of LGBTQ voters and supporters of the LGBTQ community have an unfavorable opinion on DeSantis. 

On the other hand, Michael Furlinger of Wilton Manors said he’s happy with DeSantis, particularly how the governor handled COVID-19.  

“When everybody else in the country was closed, Florida was open,” said Furlinger, who is 57 and gay. “Wilton Manors was open, the bars were open. Everybody came from New York, from New Jersey, all those states that were closed. That’s the reason why I support him, I don’t think he’s a nice guy but between our choices…you always get a choice.”   

According to the James Madison Institute, nearly 330,000 people moved to Florida from April 2020 to 2021. DeSantis ended the pandemic lockdown in May 2020 – earlier than most governors –  and has not set any restrictions, mask mandates or vaccine requirements.  

Furlinger also said he agrees with the Parental Rights in Education law, which took effect on July 1 and “prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels,” according to a press release from the Governor’s office.  

“I just don’t think grammar school kids should be talking sex with the teacher,” said Furlinger.

Celeste Giglio, a 26-year-old bisexual, said she is fearful of the country’s future. “It does really feel like regression right now, which is scary,” said Giglio, a Democrat.

Celeste Giglio studying at Florida International University’s Wolfe Center in North Miami. She plans to do more research before heading to the polls on Nov. 8. (Sofia Zuniga/SFMN)

She added that she is particularly concerned about reproductive health and LGBTQ youth. “It can be really disheartening to look at what’s happening and feel like you can’t do anything about it,” she said. “Even when you vote, you’re like, ‘Is this even going to change anything?’” 

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year, abortion has been a central issue in the Senate race in Florida between Val Demings, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Demings has attacked Rubio for what she says is his support for a ban on abortion with no exceptions, while Rubio has charged that Demings favors abortion up until the moment of birth. Demings says she backs abortion only until viabiity of the fetus. 

“With LGBTQ rights changing, and now women’s rights to abortion revoked, what’s next?” asked Ore Alva, 58-year-old gay Democrat who said he will be voting only for Democrats next month. “I’m very concerned for our future, not just for my generation, but the newer generation, too.” 

In August, Florida’s Medicaid program banned health care providers from covering services for “puberty blockers, hormone therapies or surgical procedures as a treatment for gender dysphoria” for people under the age of 18, according to Politico.  

DeSantis, who supports the ban, said, “They want to castrate these young boys, that’s wrong … I think these doctors need to get sued for what’s happening.” The governor reiterated his position during his debate with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist on Oct. 24. 

Crist has been vocal about protecting LGBTQ rights. In a tweet in August, Crist said he would “ban LGBTQ+ discrimination…protect trans health care, fire DeSantis’ quack Surgeon General and defend LGBTQ+ students and teachers.” 

Andrew Cohan enjoying his vacation at the Marmara Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. He will be voting Democratic to preserve people’s rights. (Courtesy of Andrew Cohen) 

Andrew Cohan, 63-year-old gay Democrat, said he is voting for Crist – but reluctantly.

“It’s hard to really know who he is,” Cohan said. “He was a Republican. He’s a Democrat, I don’t know. I would never campaign for him, but I certainly couldn’t vote for DeSantis.” 

Cohan votes every election year, but believes it is more important now than ever.  

“It’s always tough in Florida, with the state legislature being so staunchly Republican,” he said. “I think Crist will do his best to preserve those rights that we have.” 

Associate Editor

Sofia Zuñiga is a Digital Journalism student, completing a minor in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics, and a certificate in Queer Studies. Currently, she is an NBCU DEI fellow, with an interest in LGBTQ topics and social issues.