While a national campaign against transgender rights has rapidly created a daunting landscape for transgender people in Florida and across the country — with book bans, restrictions on gender-affirming medical care, and regulations on bathroom usage rapidly advancing in several states — Central Floridians are coming together to show their transgender neighbors that they’re not alone.
On Wednesday evening, a group of local residents, ranging in age, gathered at the Mexican Consulate, just a few miles outside downtown Orlando, to put together care packages for transgender Floridians.
Organized by Peer Support Space, a grass-roots organization, as well as the Mexican Consulate and Hope CommUnity Center, locals arranged small bags filled with stickers, hand-made drawings, cards and unicorn plush toys.
“Unicorns are magic, and transgender people are magic,” Andrea Montanez, a local LGBTQ activist and community organizer for Hope CommUnity Center, told Orlando Weekly with a smile.
Montanez, herself a transgender woman, just got back from Tallahassee, where she rallied with other advocates against a bill that would restrict something so simple as the use of public bathrooms for transgender people in Florida — something a person might take for granted unless they’re gender-nonconforming, or have an androgynous appearance.
“I was there fighting, to the Senate explaining why I have the right to go to a restroom, you know? That’s tough, because I think the state has more problems to worry about,” Montanez shared.
Floridians are still grappling with rising rents over the last two years, as well as environmental issues, the consequences of natural disasters, and other issues that affect everyday Floridians such as access to healthcare, affordable childcare and wages that haven’t kept up with the cost of living.
A separate bill advancing in the Florida Legislature would codify a ban on gender affirming medical care for minors with gender dysphoria, and would restrict it for adults, while another bill would expand an existing ban on classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Florida schools.
But sometimes, what’s needed for folks on the ground who see the headlines about these bills, according to Montanez, is just a safe and welcoming place. A place for people to come together, not to gear up for a fight, or even to grieve what’s already been lost in battles just to maintain basic rights and dignities.
About 40 to 50 people gathered at the Mexican consulate early Wednesday evening, including Val Hahn and Revecca Ponce, who told Orlando Weekly they both found the crafts event through Instagram.
Sara Reyes, a mother of a young child, was informed of the event through a friend, who sat with her and her daughter as they put together handmade cards and drawings. To Reyes, their involvement offered an opportunity to teach kids to respect everyone and to let everyone be themselves.
And, for Reyes, an event like this felt safer than going out to the streets to attend a protest, especially with a young child in tow. “It’s an easier way to get the kids involved,” she said.
With the political climate as it is, Reyes told Orlando Weekly that as a mother, she feels at a loss. “We have friends who are trying to leave,” she said.
Others, she added, are fearful of taking their kids to events that promote acceptance of LGBTQ rights, in case someone were to try and take their kids away from them.
The Florida bill banning gender-affirming care, for instance, could allow for the alteration of custody agreements, allowing a non-affirming parent to seek custody of a transgender child from an affirming or supportive parent.
The bill, however, doesn’t go as far as a directive in Texas, where the governor directed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate families who provided gender-affirming care to their children.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Reyes said, struggling to come up with words to explain the current landscape.
People who are transgender are at an increased risk for experiencing depression, anxiety, developing eating disorders, and at an increased risk for suicide and self-harm behaviors.
Creating something to show trans Floridians that they are loved, that they have neighbors who support them and their ability to live authentically without government interference or harassment, is something local advocates have said they hope to continue to do moving forward.
Montanez told Orlando Weekly that they’re planning to distribute the care packages within their own communities, and that some folks from Tampa and Clearwater that traveled for the event would be bringing home some of the packages to people there.
The organizers also plan to distribute care packages at an upcoming May Day event, organized by a broad coalition of social justice organizations, immigrant rights organizations, and the Central Florida labor council, in support of LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights, which have also been targeted by Florida’s Republican-controlled state legislature.
“Everyone is under attack from the government,” Montanez acknowledged, from labor unions, to immigrants, to LGBTQ populations. “We’re still fighting, but we do have to work together.”