Billboards reading “Say Gay” and “Protect Trans Youth” have begun popping up across the state of Florida, as well as several state capitals, in protest of recent legislation or executive actions targeting members of the LGBTQ community.
Debuting on March 31, which is recognized as the Transgender Day of Visibility, the billboards are intended to call attention to anti-LGBTQ actions in various states, and send an implicit message of support to LGBTQ individuals who may feel under attack due to those actions.
The billboards, paid for by FOLX Health, a digital queer and trans Telehealth provider, and the political action committee Southern Progress PAC, have sprung up primarily in state capitals, including Tallahassee, Florida; Des Moines, Iowa; Nashville, Tennessee; Boise, Idaho; and Austin, Texas.
Southern Progress PAC has erected additional billboards bearing the message “Say Gay” in Jacksonville and Orlando, in protest of a recent bill, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which prohibits instruction on LGBTQ-related content in primary grades.
Critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying that, in practice, it will be used by individual teachers and administrators as justification for suppressing all LGBTQ-related speech regardless of the bill’s actual text.
The unveiling of the billboards in certain state capitals is deliberate, as activists behind the project have targeted states where anti-LGBTQ legislation has either become law or is being debated by lawmakers.
For instance, in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed into law a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. In Idaho, lawmakers attempted to criminalize anyone who assists a transgender youth in accessing gender-affirming care.
In Tennessee, lawmakers not only passed a transgender sports ban last year, but are considering another measure that would classify books or other materials with sexual content as “obscene material” and empower school librarians to remove questionable material or books flagged as “obscene” from the shelves within 30 days.
Critics say that bill will be used to justify censoring, flagging, and removing any and all works with LGBTQ content, on the grounds that any LGBTQ reference or character, even if their sexuality in unrelated to the central plot, is overtly “sexual.”
In Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill to bar transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care. Gov. Greg Abbott has taken executive action, prior to any bill being approved by the General Assembly, calling on state child welfare agencies to investigate parents for “child abuse” if their children are transgender and believed to have received hormonal or surgical interventions for gender dysphoria.
A Texas court has blocked the state from enforcing that executive order while an ongoing lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Abbott’s actions, but the state is appealing the decision.
“Supporting and protecting kids should not be not political — it’s deeply personal. Unconditional love for one’s child is none of lawmakers’ business,” Rocco Kayiatos, the chief content officer at FOLX Health. “FOLX Health stands by and honors the courage of families that prioritize the love and care of their children. Health care is a human right. We stand with trans and LGBTQ kids in across the nation.”
FOLX Health previously erected a billboard reading “Trans Lives are Precious” outside of former President Donald Trump’s swanky Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and flew banners riding “Protect LGBTQ+ Youth” in several cities. The launch of the most recent billboards also coincides with the re-launch of FOLX Health’s Hormone Replacement Therapy Care Fund, in partnership with The National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. The fund, underwritten by transgender allies and supporters, financially assists transgender people who are uninsured or under-insured so they can access gender-affirming hormone therapy.
Southern Progress PAC, which was behind the additional billboards in Florida cities — beyond the Tallahassee one paid for by FOLX Health — has focused much of its efforts on protesting the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“This bill is quite frankly, a solution looking for a problem,” Southern Progress PAC volunteer Ally Sammarco told Newsweek in an interview. “We should let kids talk about who they are and where they come from, without fear of repercussions. The idea that teachers are grooming children is a weird conservative fantasy that helps them ‘explain’ why some kids are gay. It’s just not true.
“Most people now what the real intent of this bill is, and if you ask anyone from the LGBTQ community, they know what the consequences will be,” she added.
A press secretary for DeSantis said in a statement to Newsweek that the billboards are being paid for by people who do not reside in the state of Florida.
“Many of these billboards have been funded by out-of-state political entities and figures. Regardless, neither deep pockets nor woke corporations nor political lobbyists will prevent Governor DeSantis from doing what is right for Florida parents and children,” the spokesman said.
FOLX Health and Southern Progress PAC are not the only entities protesting recent anti-LGBTQ legislation. Also on Thursday, PFLAG National partnered with Have A Gay Day, an LGBTQ nonprofit in Dayton, Ohio, to launch a nationwide digital billboard campaign.
The virtual billboards display messages of support, hope, and encouragement for the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender and nonbinary youth and their families. Each billboard will also have a URL directing viewers to state-specific websites with links to support, education, or advocacy groups. Currently, there are more than 200 virtual billboards in at least 20 states, with plans to expand the campaign in the coming weeks.
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