Florida lawmakers appear to be scrambling to rewrite a proposed new law concerning displaying flags on government buildings throughout the state. The original bill created alarm for those who saw it as sympathetic to the Confederacy as well as those who saw it as a potential way to exclude LGBTQ representation.
Florida State Senator Jay Collins (R-Tampa) submitted an amendment to a bill on approved flags that could fly atop official buildings in the state. The amendment, which included a non-exhaustive list of approved flags, created alarm both for what it included and what it left out. While covering banners like the United States flag, the Florida state flag and the United Nations flag, the list also included the Confederate flag as one of the dozen flags explicitly allowed. This inclusion raised notable concerns that the law was intended to glorify the Confederacy; even though many Confederate symbols were removed around the country in the aftermath of protests over George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the retention of Confederate monuments and symbols remains a controversial issue in a number of states.
In addition to the inclusion of the Confederate flag, a number of people noted that the official list did not include provisions for Pride flags to be flown at state or local government buildings. Though the list is not meant to cover every flag that can be flown. leaving Pride flags off the list raised concern that these flags would in practice be banned by Florida officials. Such concerns exist in a context in which Florida has been particularly restrictive of LGBTQ rights. The state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which restricts mentions of LGBTQ identities and topics in schools, is seen as one of the most restrictive in the nation, and Florida legislators are looking to expand the reach of the law even further. Leaving Pride flags off the official list therefore looks like another attempt by Florida Republicans to limit the visibility of the state’s LBBTQ residents.
Only one day after news of Collins’ amendment led to massive outcry in Florida and on social media, the state senator’s office issued a statement Wednesday claiming that his “amendment draft was filed in error and has already been pulled as we work to ensure the wording of our bill is in line with the state constitution and statute.” The statement noted Collins’ patriotism and military service, including suffering battle wounds in Afghanistan, and said that “any insinuation that Jay is a confederate sympathizer is disgusting.”
— Jay Collins (@JayCollinsFL) March 15, 2023
While this particular bill may be reworked to make it less controversial, the overall engagement of Florida in the “culture wars” is likely to continue. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, has made a name for himself as a fierce opponent of “woke” policies in Florida. His crusade has centered on restricting representation and discourse surrounding Black people and other minorities as well as LGBTQ individuals