Ron DeSantis vetoes millions in arts grants to defund “sexual” theater festivals – LGBTQ Nation

Author: John Russell

Florida governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis shocked Floridians earlier this month when he vetoed over $32 million in arts funding from the state’s budget. On Thursday, he offered an explanation for the decision, citing what he characterized as “sexual” arts festivals.

“It’s like, how many of you think your tax dollars should go to fund that?” DeSantis added. “Not very many people would do that.”

“When I see money being spent that way, I have to be the one to stand up for taxpayers and say, ‘You know, what, that is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars,’” DeSantis said. “I can’t sell the Fringe Festival to taxpayers, nor would I want to try to sell the Fringe Festival to taxpayers.”

DeSantis did not specify whether he was referring to the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival or the Tampa International Fringe Festival, both of which take place annually. And the Tampa Bay Times reports that the governor’s spokespeople did not respond to questions about specific events he found objectionable.

Like many similar events held annually around the world, both the Tampa and Orlando festivals are inspired by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which was begun all the way back in 1947, and has been the site of theatrical works that grew into acclaimed TV shows like Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag and Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer.

Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani (D), who attended this year’s Orlando Fringe festival, told the Times that she saw nothing “sexual” at the festival.

“It does feature drag queens and other forms of artistic expression that DeSantis has wanted to censor despite courts telling him otherwise!” Eskamani said.

According to Florida Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith (D), the Orlando festival drew 18,000 people to the city this past May.

But as Gary Fineout, a reporter for Politico who covers Florida, explained on X, it’s not even clear that either Fringe festival would have received money from this year’s budget.

Meanwhile, thanks to DeSantis’s veto, the Times reports that institutions like the Tampa Museum of Art, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and Friends of Ybor will all be out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants — not to mention smaller arts organizations.

“The state has an overall nine-to-one return on investment from these grants that generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue and fuel our local economy,” Smith told the Tallahasse Democrat earlier this month. “This isn’t smart and makes no sense.”

Following DeSantis’s Thursday comments, Smith told the Tampa Bay Times that the governor “is trying to control and censor the content of the arts.”

As Eskamani noted, the arts funding veto is just the latest move in DeSantis’s ongoing culture war. Last year, the governor signed a bill allowing the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation to revoke the business licenses of any venues that allow minors to see drag performances, even if their parents consent. But the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a temporary injunction issued against the law last November, effectively overturning it.

More recently, Florida lawmakers attempted to pass legislation that would have banned government buildings from flying Pride flags, but the law died during the most recent legislative session, leaving local governments free to fly Pride flags this month.

Last month, Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Jared Perdue announced that as part of the DeSantis administration’s “Freedom Summer” initiative, the state’s bridges will be illuminated in red, white, and blue lights from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The initiative effectively blocks local governments from lighting up bridges in rainbow colors for Pride Month.

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Author: John Russell

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