The "I Am Not Orlando" Meme Is False and Dangerous

The "I Am Not Orlando" Meme Is False and Dangerous

A Facebook post declaring "I am not Orlando" has gone viral. The original post, made by someone in California, has been shared nearly 15,000 times. Screenshots of the post have popped up on Tumblr. One version has racked up more than 32,000 notes. It has spread to platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. There's no telling exactly how far the post has spread. 

The underlying sentiment is understandable. How could it not be when politicians who have used their offices to advance an anti-gay agenda are now pretending they are allies in order to get themselves national exposure on cable news to talk about the shooting at Pulse nightclub? How could it not be when homophobia was the motivation for the Pulse shooting? How could it not be when homophobia and persecution of gay people, though now lessened, is still widespread in this country? How could it not be when so many still refuse to accept that the shooting was a direct attack on the gay community? 

On a certain level, I understand the idea. But I'm not alone in finding the post and its viral nature upsetting. 

All but one of the points made is false or misleading. Why get people angry about things that simply aren't true instead of focusing attention on things that are still real problems? Spreading false information can be dangerous, especially when it possibly takes attention away from things that need to be done. 

The post also erases the hard work of LGBT-rights groups and activists in Orlando and Orange County. They have worked hard for decades to pass municipal protections for the LGBT community. Many of these groups and activists are now leading the way in organizing volunteers in response to the tragedy.

Not only has the Orlando LGBT community worked tirelessly to make the city one of the most accepting in the state and the Southeast, but also those members are what the city is as a whole. They are indeed Orlando, and their work doesn't need to be erased by misleading claims. 

Here's everything wrong with the post: 

"A felony to have gay sex until 1971 and a misdemeanor until 2003." 
Until 1971, Florida in fact had a law on the books that considered oral and anal sex between any two people a felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail. The Florida Supreme Court struck the law down in the case of Franklin v. State (which involved a gay man), though a law that classifies "unnatural and lascivious act" as a misdemeanor offense remained on the books.

The Human Rights Campaign notes, however, that since the 1971 decision, that law was not used to successfully prosecute consenting homosexual activity between adults in private or appropriate settings. Several court decisions since then and a 1980 state amendment guaranteeing Floridians' right to privacy seemed to affirm that homosexual sex was not illegal in the state. 

A 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision did strike down any state laws outlawing gay sex. Florida's useless and unenforced misdemeanor "unnatural and lascivious act" law does remain on the books, but it is worth noting that the law does not specifically single out same-sex contact. You can find a very, very detailed history of Florida's sodomy laws here

"Not legal for gay couples to adopt children until last year." 
So here's the thing, after the 1971 Franklin v. State decision, anti-gay activists led by the infamous Anita Bryant indeed tried to pass a law that once again made gay sex illegal. However, they soon changed their strategy to pursue a law that would outlaw any gay person (regardless of whether that person was part of a couple or not) from adopting children. For years, it was the only such state law in the nation. 

For what it's worth, the law was actually struck down by a judge in 2010, and then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision, thus allowing gay people to adopt. The state Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott officially removed the law from the books last year. 

"It is legal to pay someone to kidnap your child..." 
This refers to gay conversion therapy, and it is true. It's still legal for parents to put their minor children through this therapy despite the fact that not only is there absolutely no evidence that it works, but also there is ample proof that it is, in fact, harmful. 

This past June 8, Miami Beach became the first city in Florida (and the Southeast) to outlaw the practice. State Rep. David Richardson (who shares the distinction of being one of two of Florida's first openly gay state legislators) has made it his mission to outlaw gay conversion therapy for minors statewide. Only three states have such a ban. 

In Orlando, gay people can be "legally fired." 
This statement is simply not true. Orlando's Human Rights Ordinance has protected people from being fired for being gay since 2002. In 2014, the ordinance was expanded to include the transgender community. Orange County also passed its own countywide ordinance in 2010. It was lauded for being one of the strongest in the state. Local gay-rights groups, including many now leading the way in volunteering to help after the shootings, fought hard to pass the amendments. Stating this false fact is just a slap in the face to their hard work. 

Here is the problem. Though about two-thirds of Floridians now live in cities and counties that provide basic protections for LGB (and often, but not always T) people, Florida does not have a statewide ban on discrimination for these categories. 

"Affirms a doctor's right" to discriminate
This seems to refer to a bill proposed in 2015 by a Republican representative. It made headlines when it was filed for its outrageous nature, but the bill never even made it out of a single subcommittee in the Florida House and, thus, didn't become law. 

"In Orlando, a hate crime against me doesn't count." 
Hate-crime laws have covered gay people in Florida since 1991. Though Equality Florida notes that the law has been interpreted to include transgender and nongender-conforming people as well, the group wants to make that crystal-clear through legislation. 

So what can be done for gay rights in Orlando, Florida, and beyond?

  • The federal ban on gay men donating blood needs to be overturned.
  • Protections for LGBT people need to be expanded statewide in Florida, ideally through state legislation. In the meantime, other cities and counties need to either adopt such laws or expand them to the transgender community as well.
  • Florida needs to ban gay conversion therapy.
  • The Florida Legislature needs to stop passing mean-spirited and useless legislation such as the "Pastor Protection Act" that became law this year.
  • Hate-crime laws need to be expanded to include gender identity.

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