Florida legislation makes LGBTQ families reconsider raising kids there – USA TODAY

While many families are happily moving to Florida for warmer weather and looser pandemic restrictions, many LGBTQ families feel otherwise and are considering leaving the state due to discrimination.
Take Robby Price, for example.
Price and Jordan Letschert, or Papa and Dada to their son, Kellan, were married seven years ago at Historic Spanish Point in Osprey a few miles south of downtown Sarasota. The couple has been together for 12 years and became parents via surrogacy.
Their son is why the family finally decided to make the life-changing decision to move from Sarasota, Letschert’s hometown, to Denver, they told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, part of the USA TODAY network.
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Letschert and Price say they feel attitudes toward their community shifting in Florida following the passage of legislation that LGTBQ advocates and individuals believe directly targets those in the already marginalized community.   
In June 2021, Letschert, along with a handful of Sarasota officials and advocates, was instrumental in helping to reverse the decision of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)  to not light up John Ringling Causeway bridge in pride colors in conjunction with the annual Pride Month celebration.  
Less than a year later, in spring 2022, the Florida Legislature enacted two laws — the Individual Freedom Act, more commonly known as the Stop Wrongs Against our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, and the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that regulates how race, sexual orientation, and gender identity can be discussed in schools, among other things.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the two bills into law last July, which prompted outrage and opposition from some local students, educators, and advocates.  
And their son has had his own run-ins, including one at summer camp in Sarasota. Kellan’s parents say he proudly described his family and his two dads to another child his age, but was met with negativity. Kellan was later called “weird” by the child, prompting Letschert and Price to speak with the camp leaders.  
That was when they decided it was best to relocate. 
“Kellan talks so openly about our family. He has a huge personality, he is so bright and outgoing … We don’t want his light to be dimmed by people that don’t even know him and judge him because of who we are,” Price said.  
By July, the family had visited two cities in the Pacific Northwest and made an impromptu trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada in search of the right place. None were the right fit, they said, so Kellan was re-enrolled into his Sarasota charter school.    
When they returned, they felt a growing concern about staying in Sarasota and for the safety of their son after local elections and what Letschert called political overreach, a reference to the election of a slate of conservative candidates that shifted the balance of policy-making power on the Sarasota County School Board.  
Letschert says the family has requested Kellan’s transfer documents from the Sarasota County School District and plans to relocate at the end of the school year.
Last year marked the enactment of the Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The act also requires school districts let parents know if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.
A Sarasota mother named Amanda, who asked that her last name not be used because of fears for her family’s safety, said the shift in attitudes in Sarasota make her feel less secure. 
“Sarasota always leaned right, but the politics weren’t as divisive as they are now. So, it was manageable to live here; everyone just played nice, and we were happy to be raising our children in this community. But we have made the tough choice to leave,” the woman said. 
After her 8-year-old daughter identified as gay to the mother last year, she began to question whether Sarasota or Florida as a whole were the best places for her family. The stay-at-home mother and her husband began having a conversation about moving not only out of the state of Florida but outside the U.S.  
The couple eventually narrowed down their relocation options to Canada, where her husband’s employer is based and they plan to move to within the next year.
She explained that the two bills, along with the controversial overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Roe v. Wade precedent, impacts her family directly and worries that the challenges are only beginning. 
“My daughter is a target. I feel like because we can do better, we should do better,” the womansaid. “I worry for the kids and families who can’t leave. What’s going to happen to those kids whose parents, and now the schools, don’t support or accept them?” 
Zeth Pugh called Sarasota home for more than 30 years, but has decided to move to a new state with her husband and transgender 15-year-old. 
The family has faced many challenges because of reactions to their ninth-grader’s gender identity and transition, ultimately opting for homeschooling.  
“Having people in the community who feel that it’s okay and even righteous to bully him, is just ridiculous. I feel terrorized. The politics, they worked. As a queer family, I feel terrorized. I came to that realization the other day and I was devastated,” Pugh said. 
Their child continues to face mental health issues as a result of bullying as well as body dysmorphia as the teen transitions gender, his mother says. “He’s frustrated,” Pugh said. “He was a typical kid, tall and skinny for his age but puberty hit fast and hard.” 
After her son’s most recent voluntary check-in and release from a behavioral health center in October, Pugh said she began efforts to move her family from Sarasota to Oregon. 
In a move backed by DeSantis, the Florida Board of Medicine on Nov. 5, voted to enact a policy that now restricts doctors from prescribing hormone blockers to minors, though minors already on hormone therapy are exempt from the restriction. 
In Oregon, Pugh is hopeful that her son will be able to find better care for his medical needs and protections in place for LGBTQ families. The Pacific Northwest state is one of 20 in the U.S. that currently has full LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Oregon has no anti-transgender health policies in place for youth and provides numerous resources for transgender-affirming care for minors and support for their caregivers.
“Yes, we live in paradise, but I can’t wait to get the hell out,” Pugh said.  
Samantha Gholar covers social justice news for the Herald-Tribune and USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at sgholar@gannett.com or on Twitter: @samanthagholar

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