Florida activists look beyond proposed "family values" movie tax break proposal
Florida’s reputation for conservative, Republican-dominated politics received a fresh notch in its belt with the announcement of a bill that would offer additional tax breaks to filmmakers and television show producers who adhere to strict "family values" standards and avoid any remotely gay content or characters.
State Rep. Stephen Precourt [R-Orlando] introduced the proposed legislation with the hope of attracting filmmakers to the Sunshine State while encouraging "family-friendly" messages, such as those portrayed in "The Andy Griffith Show."
LGBT activists, journalists and bloggers around the world took note. And even the New York Times appeared to note the world has indeed changed a lot since the days of Mayberry.
"The bill is a slap in the face of the state of Florida’s LGBT community," Anthony Farver of Stand Up Florida said. "We’re still stuck in the 20th Century here, one of the worst states in the country in terms of LGBT rights and we keep heading backwards. It’s time Florida moves forward."
The state already grants a two percent tax credit for filmmakers working in Florida who avoid smoking, sex, nudity or profane language, but Precourt’s bill would specifically target "non-traditional family values" or gratuitous violence and increase the credit to five percent to those who avoid these topics. While he doesn’t feel he is targeting gay Floridians, Precourt told the Associated Press he didn’t feel shows portraying gay characters are something "we want to invest public dollars in."
The bill takes on heightened importance as its introduction coincides with a number of other LGBT-specific legislative battles set to take place in the coming months. Just this week, nearly 100 activists joined Equality Florida in Tallahassee for that organization’s lobbying day.
In their conversations with legislators, activists focused principally on three bills: The Competitive Workforce Act, which adds LGBT employment and housing discrimination provisions to the state’s non-discrimination laws; the repeal of the state’s same-sex adoption ban and the creation of a statewide domestic partnership policy.
Brian Winfield, spokesperson for Equality Florida, was hopeful other legislative victories this year would shift attention away from the ridicule the "family values" movie tax proposal has already generated. As far as he was aware, no other state had similar policies for films and television shows with conservative, non-gay themes. He said the tax would turn away jobs, the reverse intent of the original law. And legislators have already stricken anti-gay language from the bill’s Senate version.
"There is no reason to add this incredibly vague language to the tax credit law," Winfield told EDGE. "The language would be discriminatory against not only gay people, but also single-parent families, adoptive families and many other types of families. We shouldn’t have to conform to someone else’s interpretation of what a family should look like."
Winfield was excited in the first-ever debate of the same-sex adoption ban on the floor of the State Senate on Tuesday, a day he described as "nothing short of amazing." And while he sees some of the legislative battles ahead of him as "multi-year efforts," he felt the lobbying was a step in the right direction.
"We are here [in Tallahassee] talking about our relationships and we know these conversations are the best way to reach lawmakers and make change at the statewide level," Winfield said.
Farver was less optimistic about the prospects for pro-LGBT legislation passing in Florida, pointing to the Republican-controlled House and Senate and what he perceived as a lack of a statewide strategy for progress. His organization, in coalition with Equality Across America, is in the beginning stages of planning direct action and civil disobedience activism in Tallahassee.
"Until we can stand together as one organization in this whole state, I feel we won’t see full rights as GLBTA people," Farver said. "And though we’ve had some small victories in various counties across the state, we are about change at the statewide and federal level."