Orlando attempts to reassure LGBTQ+ people it’s safe to visit: ‘Everyone is welcome’

A person dances during a DIsney pride parade.

Orlando’s official tourism association is running adverts encouraging LGBTQ+ people to visit, despite Florida having some of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ state laws in the US.

A 60-second audio clip from Visit Orlando was broadcasted on iHeartRadio channels, including PRIDE Radio, reassuring listeners that the city is “ready to welcome you just as you are”.

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

NBC News journalist Ben Collins spotted the advertisements while listening to a podcast, and wrote in a Thursday (10 August) tweet that the city was “down so bad it’s unbelievable”.

A similar advert by the tourism association from June titled “Orlando is full of Pride” features a few of the city’s LGBTQ+ residents speaking about why it is a safe place for queer people.

One person who speaks in the video ad says: “The way our city is set up, there are so many pockets of multicultural groups.

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“We have our LGBTQ+ community in our Lake Ivanhoe College Park locations, we have our strong Black heritage within various parts of the city. We have a very strong Latino, Brazilian heritage here as well.

“I think that allows Orlando to not only take and absorb all those cultures but create its own wonderful, beautiful combination of all of them.”

Florida has become a notoriously dangerous place for LGBTQ+ people following the rise of Republican governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis’ so-called “war on woke”.

Since becoming governor in 2019, DeSantis has enacted the reviled ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ censorship law preventing the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools, and signed a string of anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, including legislation banning gender-affirming care for trans youth, restricting access to public toilets for trans people and restricting trans young people’s access to youth sports programmes.

In Orange County, where the city of Orlando is located, new anti-trans guidance for schools was announced on Tuesday (8 August) that means trans teachers will be misgendered and students will need parental consent for “any deviation” from their legal name.

Florida has become such an unfriendly place for the LGBTQ+ community that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued an updated travel advisory warning urging queer people to “reconsider” travelling to the state.

The joint report published in May warned LGBTQ+ travellers that, if they are still considering entering Florida, they should make a “clear safety plan”.

This includes recommendations such as consulting an attorney and knowing your rights before entering the state and to “assess the level of danger you may encounter in being searched, questioned, and/or arrested”.

The Visit Orlando advertisement, which was made a month after the travel advisory, cited HRC’s 100 rating of Orlando in an LGBTQ+ safety review.

As part of a 2022 Municipal Equality Index report, the HRC rated cities across the US for their LGBTQ+ safety and level of discrimination.

Seven of the cities in Florida that were reviewed received the maximum score of 100, although these reviews were implemented before many of DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as the ban on potentially life-saving gender-affirming care for trans youth, were signed.

The Florida city relies heavily on tourism due to its many theme parks, including Disney World and Universal Studios.

Despite this, a report from Spectrum News found that tourism had decreased by 3.5 per cent in the 12 months from April 2022 to April 2023.

During an Orange County address, mayor Jerry Demings said that, despite the drop, he believed it to still be “a really good number.”

“We are seeing different shows and conventions who have plans to come here, who are contracted to come here and others who are considering coming here, asking us questions about the character and the culture of our community,” he said in a statement reported by Spectrum News.

“I’ve had to quite frankly in the last several weeks respond to that to reassure organisations and conventions that we are a welcoming, caring, and open community.”

Visit Orlando CEO, Casandra Matej told PinkNews: “Orlando has always been and will continue to be a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community. As the top travel destination in the US and longstanding leader in the travel industry, our community has a history of welcoming all to our destination.

“Travel and tourism positively impacts our community and plays a valuable role in ongoing engagement and dialogue.”

The CEO added that the tourism organisation has “worked closely with our local community and board” to create a newly realised vision beginning in 2021, which Matej said was to “be the most visited, welcoming, and inclusive travel destination in the world.”

“In addition to the new vision, we launched a new three-year strategic plan that incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion as a key pillar,” Matej continued. “We have also relaunched a multicultural campaign to reach diverse audiences and strengthened our partnerships with local organisations, including several LGBTQ+ organisations.

“The podcast ads are part of our multicultural campaign to reach a variety of audiences and further emphasise inclusivity within our destination, in line with our vision.”

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