Will passage of education bill lead to boycotts in Florida?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Pasco County on March 28, 2022.jpg
Posted at 5:23 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 18:39:41-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The passage of Florida's new "Parental Rights In Education" law Monday is quickly creating backlash.

On Hollywood's biggest night, Florida was catapulted into the national spotlight.

The state's "Parental Rights In Education" bill — what critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill — was the target of jokes during the first few minutes of the Academy Awards.

The bill was officially signed into law Monday.

"Is it a surprise? No. Is it disappointing? Yes," said Julie Seaver, the executive director of the Compass Community Center.

Coming off Palm Beach Pride Weekend, the Compass Center, a safe place for the LGBTQ community, said it has seen a wave of support locally and from outside Florida since the bill was passed.

"The state of California showed up for Florida LGBTQ residents and workers of Disney," Seaver said.

Now there is talk of possible boycotts and potential hits to Florida's economic engine, the tourism industry.

Popular and powerful tech journalist Kara Swisher, who is openly gay, wrote on Twitter she will no longer hold a tech conference next year in Miami after the bill was passed.

"Do I expect boycotts? Yes, I do. I don't know how many and when," said Peter Ricci, the director of hospitality management at Florida Atlantic University.

Ricci said Florida has a diverse economy of tourism, theme parks, pristine beaches and world-class conferences, and any cancellations would impact businesses still trying to rebound from the pandemic.

"If we lose group travel, any one conference could be between $200,000 and $5 million of economic value depending on size," Ricci said.

Discover the Palm Beaches didn't go on camera Monday, but tells WPTV it has not seen any impact on tourism or had any group cancellations surrounding the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

In a statement the president and CEO said:

"We celebrate and embrace the diverse and distinct thirty-nine cities and towns that make up our county and welcome all walks of life to live, work, and visit The Palm Beaches.”

But a boycott can cost states big money.

In 2010, Arizona lost more than $140-million in convention business because of an anti-immigration bill.

The state also lost two Super Bowls after refusing to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday.

And Georgia and North Carolina, both lost more than $100-million in revenue because of controversial bills.

"I'm surprised I haven't heard of cancellations yet. I'm surprised," Ricci said.

On Monday - Disney released a statement saying:

"Florida's HB 1557, also known as the Don't Say Gay Bill should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.

We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in FL and across the country."

Gov. Ron DeSantis' office said it's not concerned about boycotts or economic harm, adding the bill does not ban the word gay or single out any sexual orientation.

In a statement, DeSantis' press secretary said "If anyone actually boycotts Florida because they’re upset about the lack of sex and gender theory instruction in our kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms, I’m confident that our state is better off without them."

She went on to say that "No amount of money would convince Governor DeSantis to change his position. He will always stand for parental rights and protecting children."

The impacts and possible backlash remain to be seen.