Florida church leaders beg governor Ron DeSantis to veto ‘deadly’ Don’t Say Gay bill

Metropolitan Community Church members and clergy protest the 'Don't Say Gay' bill outside the Florida State Capitol

Florida church leaders are begging governor Ron DeSantis to veto the deadly ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill: “We cannot believe you would wish to place at risk the lives of young people.”

On Tuesday (8 March), Florida’s Republican-controlled State Senate passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, in a 22 to 17 vote.

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, now headed to the desk of governor DeSantis, would ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”, as well as encouraging school staff to out LGBT+ pupils to their parents.

As the Senate debated the bill on Tuesday, members of the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) gathered outside the Florida State Capitol and declared God’s love for queer youth.

MCC is an international Christian denomination, founded by gay reverend Troy Perry in 1968. It describes itself as “the world’s first church group with a primary, positive ministry to gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender persons”.

The denomination has 17 churches in Florida, and both clergy and church members joined in the rally.

Reverend Craig Cranston, assistant pastor ​at MCC Tampa told PinkNews: “We sat in the rotunda, and told stories, and chanted, and sang, and told the story of God’s love.

“We said, ‘We will not be dismissed, we will not be put back in the closet.'”

MCC clergy protest the 'Don't Say Gay' bill outside the Florida State Capitol

MCC clergy protest the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill outside the Florida State Capitol. (MCC Tampa)

“We object to the fact that if this legislation passes… this will unquestionably cost the lives of Florida youth,” he said.

Cranston said MCC is in a frustrating position, as the church is “very much the minority relative to the faith community” in Florida.

If DeSantis signs the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, as he is expected to, young queer people will have one less space where they can be themselves.

“A teacher or supportive adult in the school system are often the people that students begin the conversation of coming out to, of talking about their real truth,” said Cranston.

“Those adults are now going to be silenced and not able to have that conversation.”

If ‘Don’t Say Gay’ is implemented, students with anti-LGBT+ families, who are now unable to discuss their identities at school, will be desperately searching for a place they feel safe.

Cranston, who is the co-leader of the Florida network of MCC churches, said: “One thing that we’re going to be asking is, how do we create that safe space?

“Church is a complicated thing. Most parents don’t want their children to go to a church that they’re not going to, church tends to be something that’s a familial event.

“If I’m an evangelical Republican who hates gay people, I am sure as hell not dropping my kid off at a gay church.”

There are no easy answers to how MCC can reach out to queer young people in need, but Cranston suspects it will look like an increase in the calls they get “all the time”.

“Calls from people who say, ‘I’m gay, I’ve been thrown out of my house’, or, ‘My pastor tried to give me an exorcism, or do conversion therapy’,” he said.

“We get those calls all the time… Part of our work is just helping to undo the trauma that churches have done in convincing people, and helping people really know that the Bible doesn’t say that being gay is a sin.

“I know your pastor might have said that. Your pastor probably believes in things that are also not true, like that Trump actually won the 2020 election. People believe weird things all the time.”

At the rally outside the Florida State Capitol, Cranston said: “A young African American man came up to me and he said, ‘I’ve never seen someone Like you tell me I was okay.’

“I looked at him and said, ‘Let me just be very clear. You are wonderfully and beautifully made, just as you are.

“He started to cry and he said, ‘I’ve never had a man of faith tell me that, can I please give you a hug?’

“When I think about the harm that church does… We have to find those moments one at a time. Because that’s all we can do, right?

“This piece of legislation is going to make it even harder for us to create spaces where people know that God loves them just as they are.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will now head to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it. (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty/ Paul Hennessy)

After the Florida State Senate passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, Cranston, along with many other MCC clergy and members, sent a letter to governor DeSantis.

They said: “We write, as faith and lay leaders of churches across the State of Florida, urging you to veto HB 1557, more commonly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.

“We recognize the legislation has popular traction within the Republican body politic and that signing such a bill would serve to enhance your conservative reputation, especially for those who oppose any LGBTQ rights.

“Yet, we would be remiss if we did not remind you of your oath of office, which was not to Republicans alone, but to the entire state of Florida and for which we are constituents.”

They said that “the direct effect of such a measure will be the probable death of many Florida youth”, and added: “You may not know any person who has struggled against a dominant cultural narrative of heteronormativity but coming out is an act of courage.

“It can also be one filled with trauma. Often, trusted leaders, like teachers, are the only resource for so many kids seeking guidance as they venture into a world as their authentic selves, hoping to find acceptance… We cannot believe you would wish to place at risk the lives of young people in this state.

“We come together, as people of faith, and together with many organizations across this state, to urge your rejection of this legislative measure and would invite you into conversation should you wish to learn more.”