Don’t say Florida! Why I chose to move my LGBTQ business away from the Sunshine State
I think it’s safe to say that if you’re queer, you probably breathed a sigh of relief on Election Night, when the forecasted “red wave” was more like a red puddle. Enough voters seemed to support the best candidate for the job–or for the personal freedom of abortion rights and against election denialists–rather than voting down party lines, creating glimmer of hope still left for our great democracy.
There were even some groundbreaking firsts: the first Black governor in Maryland, the first lesbian governor in Massachusetts, and New Hampshire is set to elect an openly trans man to the state legislature after rejecting several MAGA candidates on the state ballot.
That said, it wasn’t all great news, namely, the state of Florida looks to have solidified itself as a full-on dead red, with Ron DeSantis pummeling weak competition, and the Miami area even voting Republican by a narrow margin.
As a small business owner who just moved out of Florida and back to my home state of California the week before Election Night, I couldn’t be more relieved to have left, right before things took an even more drastic turn.
Why was I in Florida to begin with, you might ask?
In early 2020, Florida had promise. Sure, it’s always been the butt of the joke when it comes to crazy stories involving the crazy hijinks of Floridians. You’ve seen the headlines about “Florida Man,”,the first two words in any headline that then involves something totally outrageous or just plain stupid. You know, like “Florida Man” in “No, Seriously, I have drugs” T-Shirt Arrested for Possession of Drugs.”
Or how about this one, “Florida Man Suspected of Using Private Plane to Draw Giant Radar Penis.” But as far as a place to live, there were certain parts of Florida that were still great places to reside. No one can deny those beautiful white sand beaches against turquoise waters are like any others in the US, especially down in Miami Beach, where you may as well be in the Caribbean. There was always a vibrant gay community as well, especially in the 90s and early 2000’s when South Beach was a gay playground.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, my husband and I decided to try out a new chapter, and we had hope that Florida was still at the tipping point of becoming an okay place to live as a gay couple. We moved to Fort Lauderdale in the gay hood of Wilton Manors and started our business, LGBTQ Therapy Space, which helps match LGBTQ clients with great LGBTQ therapists in their state who understand their authentic selves and help bring out their best lives.
While I knew all along that the culture of therapy in Florida wasn’t quite the same as in California, I felt like the need for affirmative professionals would be great. A lot of queer Floridians came from small towns in the South, escaping homophobic, religious, or restrictive environments. One might argue the need for an accepting, authentic, and safe therapeutic space is needed there more than ever.
Then came the 2020 presidential election, a few months after we moved. We were bright-eyed and optimistic that Florida was still a purple state, and would maybe even turn blue (with our help!). But as the returns came in, Florida was the first state to go immediately Republican, with a decisive victory for Donald Trump.
Next came DeSantis, who was just like Trump–only maybe even a little smarter (which could make him even more dangerous). And suddenly, it seemed like conservative laws were being passed left and right, from restrictive abortion laws to votes that oppose gender-affirming care for trans youth, to the now infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The Florida state legislation, titled CS/CS/HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education (commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill), prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels. It is a direct attack on everything I stand for as a queer, affirming therapist.
My entire practice, and our business, is devoted to helping people embrace and love themselves, reducing shame and stigma. Telling kids in a classroom that they shouldn’t mention their two gay dads is telling that child there is something wrong with their family, and they should feel “less than”. A closeted kid hearing it’s not okay to say out loud how they identify, directly leads to shame, creating higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Research published this very year points to the fact that when schools have pro-LGBTQ policies, the students score higher on various measures of mental health.
I knew that our new home wasn’t exactly shaping up to be the most welcoming and like-minded state for a therapy business, despite all this, my feeling was if the government is trying to put us back in the closet again, then where else is a business like this needed more?
That said, over the two years that we lived there, Florida slowly became the butt of the joke, synonymous with DeSantis, idiotic MAGA supporters crying for their “freedoms”, and the hub of the “Karens”. Donald Trump and his offspring even moved down there (spurring Rosie O’Donnel to sell her Palm Beach home and flee, simply because she could see the compound from her residence).
I began to ask myself an important question, “What does it say about me and my business that I’m allowing myself to be governed and surrounded by people who don’t think like me, and don’t have the same values as me?”
Sure, there are exceptions, and we met some great like-minded thinkers who are doing great work in the state. But over time, my sense of self-worth felt threatened, as my business was ultimately supporting a state that didn’t support me or our clients. What message was I sending to our customers if we were willing to let “Don’t Say Gay” slide off our backs, while telling them they should be releasing all shame and stigma about being queer?
These conflicting feelings, plus a host of other things we missed about California, led us to make the decision to return. Some might call the move to Florida a “failure”, but I call it a learning opportunity, and a chance to really hone in on what’s important, and be grateful for people and institutions that value equality.
Is Florida a lost cause? I hope not. Have I abandoned Florida and those who I related to there? Absolutely not. We don’t want to necessarily have a divided nation that is unwilling to have a conversation with one another. Do we still offer therapy services there? Of course, they are needed more than ever. But as far as where our company is based, I want to feel proud of where we are, and not feel like we’re simply “accepting” our treatment that could lead to feeling “less than”, setting a positive example for our clients.
I hope Florida can return to what it once was, but for now, I’m glad to be home.
Jake Myers the Founder of LGBTQ Therapy Space , the first LGBTQ-owned and operated national platform for online therapy. In addition to matching clients with affirmative therapists in their state, Jake also has his own tele-health practice for clients in both CA and FL. Follow him on Instagram, and keep up with the latest at LGBTQ Therapy Space here!