‘We will not disappear’: LGBTQ activists rally at Orlando City Hall

LGBTQ Floridians question whether new education and healthcare policies are simply a move to eradicate their presence in the state

click to enlarge LGBTQ+ activists and allies rally in support of transgender rights outside Orlando City Hall on April 24, 2023. - photo by McKenna Schueler
photo by McKenna Schueler
LGBTQ+ activists and allies rally in support of transgender rights outside Orlando City Hall on April 24, 2023.

As the Florida Legislature continues to advance policies in education and healthcare that LGBTQ Floridians have characterized as a move to eradicate their presence in the state, a group of about 60 activists and allies gathered for a rally in Orlando to signal: We’re here, we’ve always been here, and we’re not going anywhere.

Undeterred by April showers, a multiracial group ranging in age, but skewing younger, gathered at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for a march to City Hall. The demonstration was organized by a coalition of local activist groups, including the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs and Stand With Abortion Now, a volunteer abortion clinic escort group, among others.

As activists marched through the streets of downtown, torrents of rain drenched the group. They repeated chants of “Fuck DeSantis,” “Protect trans youth” and “Fuck these fucking fascists — they can kiss our asses,” as several drivers honked their horns in solidarity.

Just about three white, middle-aged counter-protesters followed and filmed the group, woefully outnumbered. Cops kept their eyes on the group, but did not intervene.

The rally, organized on the steps of City Hall early afternoon, took aim at the state’s legislative attacks on trans and nonbinary youth, including a proposal to ban gender-affirming care for Florida minors and enact major restrictions for adults; a proposed expansion of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law (also known as “Don’t Say Gay”); and legislation headed to the desk of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that’d place restrictions on drag performances.

“We stand here in defiance of a fascist regime that aims to exterminate us,” said Rebecca (not her real name), a transgender woman who organizes with the group Food Not Bombs. 

“One thing has become clear: Fascism is well and alive in places like Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, to name a few,” she added. “I live in fear of being persecuted for who I am.”

A number of rallies and protests have been organized in Orlando and across the state of Florida (including at the state capitol) in protest of policies that LGBTQ activists and allies warn will have a devastating impact not only on LGBTQ Floridians’ quality of life, but also their mental health and access to life-saving resources, such as gender-affirming medical care.

Gender-affirming care, meant to help alleviate gender dysphoria, has been described by some Florida Republicans as “mutilation” and called “experimental,” despite the fact that it’s endorsed by major medical groups, including the American Medical Association.

Research shows that gender-affirming medical care for trans and nonbinary youth, including puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones, can reduce thoughts of suicide, as well as reduce moderate to severe depression and suicide attempts. 

A 2022 survey from the Trevor Project found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in past year, and that 60% of LGBTQ youth in the U.S. who wanted mental healthcare weren’t able to access it.

Transgender people are also at a heightened risk for eating disorders, which can have detrimental effects on a person's quality of life and have some of the highest mortality rates among mental health disorders.

A Brevard County parent of a young, transgender child (who spoke to Orlando Weekly earlier this month on the condition of anonymity) said she’s made the reluctant decision to pull her child from public school, concerned about how enhanced restrictions on classroom discussion of gender identity through an expansion of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law (widely known as “Don’t Say Gay”) would affect her daughter’s mental health. 

The mother told Orlando Weekly that she and her child’s former school principal have even cried on the phone together. Some school leaders fear repercussion from the state as they attempt to comply with policies that have led to the removal of LGBTQ-themed books from schools, and a general air of anxiety, unease and fear surrounds any discussion that touches on gender in classrooms.

It’s bled into the personal lives of families with trans youth. “There are people that think that we are child abusers, pedophiles for supporting our child,” the Brevard County mother told Orlando Weekly. Even family members and friends have reacted negatively to her and her husband’s affirmation of their child, who currently sees a therapist for gender dysphoria.

At the Monday rally in Orlando, several speakers acknowledged the difficulty of staying — or not being able to leave — a state that has become increasingly hostile to LGBTQ people. 

As of 2020, Florida was home to an estimated 886,000 LGBTQ residents, but some have told reporters they’re leaving the state.

“I respect anyone who makes that decision [to leave] to feel safe,” said Charlie, on the steps of city hall. “But this is my home.”

Moving is also expensive, and not everyone can afford to go. “We have to fight for the people that are in small towns that feel alone, that have nobody, whose family, whose school, whose friends are telling them ‘you don’t matter,’” said Juno, a nonbinary organizer with Food Not Bombs, who grew up in a small town where LGBTQ people were not so visible or out and proud.

Aston Mack, the founder of local group Orlando Freedom Fighters, reminded the crowd that the fight to protect one another is intersectional. “We must always remember the divisions that they put between us are artificially created to subjugate us,” said Mack. “There is one fight — and it is the fight for liberation,” he said to cheers.

The rally in Orlando occurred just days after a statewide walkout of students at over 300 public schools and universities, organized in protest of educational policies championed by Florida’s GOP that target so-called “wokeness” in public education, and which allow quality, comprehensive education and Florida educators to become collateral damage of political performance.

Legislation targeting faculty tenure and diversity programs in higher education and other controversial educational policies prioritized by DeSantis, have already had chilling effects on the educational landscape. And, going even further than a rapidly advancing legislative proposal, the Florida Board of Education last week moved to expand the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law to all public school grades, starting with pre-K.

Still, even amid a climate of fear and uncertainty, there was also a feeling of hope and community among those gathered on the steps of Orlando City Hall. 

As speakers approached the steps, the sun came out. The rain stopped.

“I’m hopeful that we will win,” said Rebecca, staring out at a crowd of drenched demonstrators, holding umbrellas and cardboard signs that’d started to disintegrate.

“We must work alongside our allies and LGBTQ+ community and beyond, including people of color, immigrants, women and other marginalized groups,” she said. “We need to recognize that our struggles are interconnected, and by working together we can create a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender identity or expression.”


Since 1990, Orlando Weekly has served as the free, independent voice of Orlando, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming an Orlando Weekly Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
Scroll to read more Orlando Area News articles

Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.