Metro Weekly

Orlando Tourism Board Releases Ad Begging LGBTQ People to Visit

Despite a flurry of anti-LGBTQ laws, “Visit Orlando” attempts to coax tourists into visiting Florida with a much-criticized radio ad.

Walt Disney World in Orlando – Photo: David Aughinbaugh II, via Flickr

A radio ad released by Visit Orlando, the city of Orlando’s official tourism board, is attempting to coax more LGBTQ visitors into visiting the Sunshine State – and earning criticism from some LGBTQ advocates in the process.

The 60-second ad, which is being broadcast on iHeartMedia podcasts outside of Florida, says that “Orlando [is] a city that’s ready to welcome you just as you are.”

“The possibilities are endless,” the ad declares. “And there are amazing LGBTQ events for you to experience where everyone is welcome!”

Visit Orlando’s CEO, Casandra Matej, told Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV that the ad was not a response to any one action by the state government, but rather part of a broader “inclusivity” push that started in 2021. 

“We’re very proud that we’re the number one visited destination in the U.S.,” Matej said. “But our board leadership, our team at Visit Orlando, we felt very compelled that we needed to add not only the most visited but the most welcoming and inclusive.”

The inclusivity push comes in the form of the ad campaign called “Orlando for All” that outlines myriad reasons why Orlando is a tourist destination. Outreach to the LGBTQ community makes up between 5% to 6% of the campaign’s marketing budget, Matej estimates. 

In addition to the podcast ads, the campaign has placed an ad in USA Today and floats in the Dallas and Chicago Pride parades. According to the tourism board, the advertising blitz has caused an increase in visitors from those cities.

Visit Orlando is also planning to participate in Orlando’s Pride festival on Oct. 21, and has ads planned to air during the city’s six-week “Magical Dining” charitable fundraiser and winter college football games.

Despite denials from Visit Orlando officials, the marketing campaign comes on the heels of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s crusade against the LGBTQ community. DeSantis has a history of waging attacks against the LGBTQ community, beginning with his support for the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that outlaws classroom discussions of LGBTQ people in public schools. As governor, he’s also signed anti-trans legislation that prohibits trans youth from medically transitioning and bars transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Given the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ legislation and the hostility toward LGBTQ visibility more generally, some advocates have accused the ad of being disingenuous, tone-deaf, and potentially even dangerous.

“It kind of feels like it feels like they’re totally not paying attention to what is happening,” Yasmin Flasterstein, an LGBTQ advocate and co-founder of Peer Support Space, told WFTV. “It makes me as an LGBTQ+ person feel like I am not justified or not valid and like having these fears.”

Transgender journalist Erin Reed concurred with Flasterstein’s assessment. 

“‘Visit Orlando, where you can be arrested for using the bathroom!’” Reed posted to the site formerly known as Twitter last week. “No shade on the LGBTQ people in Orlando, they are fighting like hell, but the state is not safe for visitors right now.”

Ari Drennen, the program director for the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America, also took issue with Visit Orlando’s marketing strategy, casting it as tone-deaf.   

“It’s honestly irresponsible for city officials to lie to people like that,” Drennen posted. “Trans people risk arrest if they use a Florida bathroom. No way to spin that.”

Despite the pushback from some LGBTQ community members, not everyone is considering the ads as a failure. Tatiana Quiroga, the executive director at Come Out With Pride, an LGBTQ non-profit in Orlando, says the airtime is needed now more than ever. 

“I’m very excited to see that Visit Orlando is specifically speaking to the LGBTQ+ community,” Quiroga said. “I think that it’s about time.”

Alluding to the important role that tourism plays in Orlando’s economy, Quiroga noted that it is the local LGBTQ community or LGBTQ-friendly businesses which would be hurt if out-of-town visitors stay away.

“Come on down, see who we are, see why we’re fighting,” she said. “Don’t forget us in our biggest time of need… Turning your backs on us now is actually the opposite of what we need to happen.”

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