‘Hate-inspired’ leadership: NAACP joins other groups in warning against travel to Florida

The oldest civil rights group in the U.S. is cautioning travelers to reconsider visits to Florida as they join other advocates in expressing distaste for the state’s “openly hostile” leadership.

The NAACP issued a travel advisory Saturday in response to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to ban books about race and LGBTQ+ identities, reject a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course and bar diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida colleges. The advisory was proposed to the national Board of Directors in April during the NAACP Florida chapter’s conference in Orlando.

“Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the advisory says. “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

As for NAACP President Derrick Johnson, he asserts DeSantis has launched “unrelenting attacks on fundamental freedoms.”

“Let me be clear — failing to teach an accurate representation of the horrors and inequalities that Black Americans have faced and continue to face is a disservice to students and a dereliction of duty to all,” Johnson said in a statement.

The NAACP has pushed back against DeSantis and state lawmakers — even distributing thousands of banned books related to race to communities of color across the state.

“Once again, hate-inspired state leaders have chosen to put politics over people,” chair Leon Russell said in a statement. “Governor Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida have engaged in a blatant war against principles of diversity and inclusion and rejected our shared identities to appeal to a dangerous, extremist minority.”

“It’s nothing but a stunt — take a look at Florida’s record tourism numbers,” Taryn M. Fenske, communications director of the governor’s office, told the Miami Herald in an email Monday. DeSantis will file paperwork Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission and formally announce his presidential candidacy for the Republican nomination via video on social media, sources say.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media during a press conference at Christopher Columbus High School on Monday, March 27, 2023, in Miami, Fla. The press conference was held to announce DeSantis’s signing of a private school voucher expansion, HB1, which allows more Florida school children become eligible for taxpayer-funded school vouchers. MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

NAACP joins LULAC and Equality Florida

The NAACP isn’t the only civil rights organization to declare a travel warning for Florida in recent months.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights group in the U.S., issued a warning Wednesday advising immigrants and their families to avoid traveling to the Sunshine State because of DeSantis’ recent crackdown on immigration.

READ MORE: Civil-rights group issues Florida travel alert in response to DeSantis immigration crackdown

The warnings follow DeSantis signing a bill earlier this month that limits undocumented migrant labor, ends community-funded programs that give undocumented immigrants ID cards and toughens penalties against those who transport undocumented immigrants into the state.

“If you bring your tía (aunt) to Disney World... to Miami or Universal Studios, they are going to charge you with a felony for bringing your undocumented friend or relative to Florida,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia said during a press conference. “Florida is a dangerous, hostile environment for law-abiding Americans and immigrants.”

Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, issued a similar alert in April, warning that going to Florida may pose a risk to people’s health, safety and freedom.

Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists on Sunday swarmed South Beach, playing volleyball, day drinking at restaurants along Ocean Drive and basking in the afternoon sun. Miami Beach, known for its clear waters and LGBTQ+ friendly nightlife, welcomes more than 3 million tourists from around the world every year.

The Herald went to the tourism hub to talk to visitors about the travel advisories. However, most people declined to comment and several said they were unaware of the advisories — and why they were in place.

Fireworks over the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS
Fireworks over the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Will the travel advisories impact tourism?

Tourism is one of Florida’s major industries, with close to 138 million tourists visiting the state in 2022, according to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation. In 2021, tourists spent almost $102 billion, supporting more than 1.7 million jobs.

Between January and March 2023, Florida saw a record 37.9 million visitors, the largest volume of visitors ever recorded in a single quarter, DeSantis said Friday in a news release.

Last week, The Walt Disney Company scrapped its plans for a billion dollar office complex in Florida as the company and DeSantis continue their ongoing feud.

The company’s determination to halt the project comes after Disney CEO Bob Iger recently questioned whether Disney should continue to invest in the state, The Hill reported. In a call to investors, Iger said that Florida was taking “retaliation” against free speech.

Dana Young, President and CEO of Visit Florida, told the Herald via email Monday evening that “partisan organizations” are attempting to “weaponize travel in pursuit of political ends.”

“The saddest part of this political stunt is that the people who would be most impacted are the hardworking hospitality professionals in Florida who depend on tourism to support themselves and their families,” Young said.

READ MORE: How did the Disney-DeSantis feud develop? A timeline from COVID rules to culture wars

For David Whitaker, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), the travel advisories are an invitation for visitors to learn more about the area’s “tourism and hospitality ecosystem and what we and our partners are doing in Miami to be welcoming and inclusive.” GMCVB is the sales and marketing organization for Greater Miami and Miami Beach.

Miami — and by extension Florida — would see a negative impact from less visitors, Whitaker told the Herald. The worst impact, however, would be the missed opportunity to empower diverse small businesses, entrepreneurs and employees.

“In the case of Miami, it is not so much a celebration of progress as it is a part of our DNA — Diversity is in our cultural fabric,” Whitaker told the Herald. “Miami’s authenticity in terms of the diversity of our people, experiences, neighborhoods and heritages is one of if not the key differentiators for us as a travel and event destination.”

The bureau, Whitaker said, aims to use this challenge to educate visitors and clients about the diverse offerings and experiences they can find in Florida.

“We respectfully invite anyone considering not traveling here to first learn of all of the programs and partnerships in place that celebrate our diversity,” Whitaker said. “We simply need to double down and make sure we get a chance to let visitors and potential visitors know their investment in Miami is an investment in our people.“

Elected officials weigh in

Several Florida elected officials also used NAACP’s sentiments to laud their respective cities’ diversity and inclusion efforts.

Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade, said Monday via Twitter that the county “has long been a place that celebrates its rich diversity and ensures all people feel safe and welcome.”

“Our diverse cultural traditions have transformed our county into a global destination, and we stand against any efforts that undermine our strength and prosperity,” Levine Cava said.

Dan Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach, told the Herald that the Florida legislative agenda is “intentionally offensive” to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. “It feels like we have all become unwilling props for Governor DeSantis’ imminent primary bid,” Gelber said. “But it should be very obvious that not all communities agree with this agenda, especially mine.”

Ken Welch, mayor of St. Petersburg, said on Twitter that the Gulf Coast city is a “shining example of bridge-building, collaboration, Intentional Equity, and respect for all” and welcomes anyone visiting.

Jane Castor, mayor of Tampa, said on Facebook that “diversity and inclusion are central to what makes Tampa one of America’s greatest and friendliest cities” and “that will never change, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee.”