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Florida’s DeSantis moves to eliminate Disney’s status in special session

“Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies without thoughts of the ramifications”

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Screenshot/10 Tampa Bay YouTube

SUMTER COUNTY, FL. – During a press conference Tuesday, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he had expanded the special session of the state legislature, which was meeting next week to rework and approve congressional re-districting maps, to include eliminating the 1967 law that allows the Walt Disney World Resort property to operate as a self-governing body.

“I am announcing today that we are expanding the call of what they are going to be considering this week,’’ DeSantis said at a news conference in The Villages, a massive master planned retirement community  that sprawls over Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties located approximately 45 miles northwest of Orlando.

“Yes, they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968 — and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for the land of the Walt Disney World Resort. It includes 39.06 sq mi within the outer limits of Orange and Osceola counties and acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

DeSantis and the media conglomerate locked horns over the Disney Company’s public denouncement of  H.B. 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” colloquially known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, that DeSantis signed into law last month.

A spokesperson for the Disney Company had issued a statement condemning the legislation.

“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 Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.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 Florida and across the country.”

The governor in response to Disney told reporters:

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest, but two, I think that crossed the line.”

Taking aim at Disney corporate leadership including its CEO Bob Chapek he added:

“This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of Florida, it is not based on the demands of California corporate executives,” he continued. “They do not run this state, they do not control this state.”

The governor’s call to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District at the beginning of this month was amplified by state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-Fort Myers, a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman, who is licensed to practice law in Florida and Texas, is opposed to abortion and also introduced legislation targeting what he terms “cancel culture” on the campuses of universities and colleges in the state, HB 233.

In the wake of the governor’s announcement Tuesday, a Republican politician and former gambling industry executive from Brevard County, state Rep. Randy Fine tweeted:

“Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them. @GovDeSantis just expanded the Special Session so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50 yr-old special statute that makes Disney to exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.”

A legislative source speaking on background told the Blade Tuesday that its doubtful that DeSantis and his allies realize the massive burden that will be thrust onto the governments of Orange and Osceola counties. “Consider things such as zoning, sewage, taxation, waste removal, and the loss of money provided by Reedy Creek/Disney for fire-police, and other critical key governmental elements that the company has established in contracts,” the source noted.

“The obvious consideration is that Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies like Disney without thoughts of the ramifications- economic alone, and the long term damages created to the state and all Floridians as a result,” the source added.

According to historical documents from the Reedy Creek Improvement District, then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk signed the RCID Act into law in May 1967, creating two municipalities: Bay Lake and Reedy Creek, which was later renamed Lake Buena Vista. The location, nestled between Orange and Osceola counties, would later become the site where Walt Disney World was built.

The RCID Charter created a 25,000-acre of land as a special taxing district. At the time, it was considered remote and uninhabitable, but now is the site of one of the busiest theme parks in the United States.

To make Disney’s plan happen, the area had to get special privileges from the state of Florida to essentially run itself.

“In 1967, the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government,” RCID says on its website.

DeSantis announces expanded special session targeting Walt Disney World property:

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Florida

Florida prohibits Medicaid reimbursement for trans healthcare

Lambda Legal tells the LA Blade its “exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking”

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Photo Credit: Equality Florida

TALLAHASSEE – On Thursday, Florida officially joined the roster of conservative states whose Medicaid programs carve out coverage exemptions for transgender related healthcare, including gender-affirming therapies for young people. 

Against the guidance of mainstream medical opinion, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) ratified new rules prohibiting taxpayer reimbursement for puberty blockers, hormone therapies, or surgical procedures to treat gender dysphoria. 

“We are exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking,” wrote Carl Charles, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in an emailed statement to The Los Angeles Blade. “Lambda Legal has secured victories on this issue in other states such as Alaska (Being v. Crum), and just this month in our case, Fain v. Crouch, in West Virginia.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its Florida Chapter (FCAAP) wrote in an emailed statement to The Blade that they were “disheartened” by AHCA’s finalization of rules blocking Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care: 

“The state’s interference with the physician-patient relationship and its prohibition of this vital care will negatively impact Floridians who are trying to live their lives as their true, healthiest selves. As pediatricians, our only goal is to work with families and provide our patients with the best evidence-based care possible. When necessary and appropriate, that includes gender-affirming care. The AAP and FCAAP will continue to stand up in support of all young people, including those who are transgender.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not return a request for comment in time for publication. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Also on Thursday, Florida’s AHCA inaccurately accused HHS and the AAP of misleading the public about the safety of transgender related healthcare, though it was not the first time the state’s health agency has butted up against its federal counterparts and associations of medical practitioners. 

AHCA previously issued a bulletin in April that prompted rebukes from groups including the Endocrine Society, which accused AHCA of spreading misinformation about healthcare treatments for transgender people, including youth. The bulletin’s contents also conflicted with official positions on these matters held by HHS. 

A coalition of legal advocacy organizations including Lambda Legal immediately condemned the AHCA’s latest move in a joint statement Thursday, writing: “Ignoring thousands of public comments and expert testimony, Florida’s AHCA has finalized a rule that will deny Medicaid coverage for all medically necessary gender-affirming care for both youth and adults. This discriminatory and medically unsound rule will take effect on August 21, 2022, putting transgender people in jeopardy of losing access to critical gender-affirming health care services.”

The statement also took aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “AHCA’s actions, at the behest of Governor DeSantis and his political appointees, are morally and legally wrong as well as medically and scientifically unsound. This rule represents a dangerous escalation in Governor DeSantis’s political zeal to persecute LGBTQ+ people in Florida, and particularly transgender youth.”

The Movement Advancement Project publishes a chart tracking state-by-state Medicaid coverage for transgender-related care, which is a patchwork of different exemptions and carveouts that generally maps onto the extent to which each leans conservative. 

Much like with other public health insurance programs like state employee health plans, discriminatory state Medicaid programs have often been the subject of litigation challenging them, in lawsuits that are often successful.

Nikole Parker, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Equality in an emailed statement said:

“Just over one week from today, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, at the behest of Governor DeSantis, plans to strip thousands of vulnerable Floridians of their health care. Transgender people have been accessing gender-affirming care through Medicaid for years. That care is now being shut off by a state agency that has been corrupted, weaponized, and stacked with extremists by a governor desperate to fuel his own political ambitions.

Today, more than 9,000 transgender Floridians access care through Medicaid. On August 21, the state government will put  that care on the chopping block. As further evidence for his complete disregard for the health and well being of transgender Floridians, the DeSantis Administration has done nothing to quantify or assess the terrible impact this rule would have on the thousands of transgender people who rely on Medicaid for their care. The transgender community, like all people, shouldn’t have necessary, life-saving care stripped away by extremist politicians working overtime to stoke right-wing fervor. This brazen, politically-motivated attack is cruel, dangerous and puts the health of thousands at risk.”

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Ukrainian family accused of anti-gay hate crime: “Accusations are false”

Initially the victim told police he was drunk & fell down changing his story 6 months later when he said that he was attacked by the family

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Yevhen Makarenko and son Oleh Makarenko speak with CBS Miami after release from jail. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Miami)

POMPANO BEACH, Fl. – A family of Ukrainian refugees accused of a vicious hate crime against a gay man have bonded out of jail and are speaking to media outlets in South Florida telling their side of the story, denying that the victim is being truthful.

Inna Makarenko, her husband Yevhen and their youngest son Oleh, who goes by Alex, were accused of a brutal hate crime by the 31-year-old victim who has invoked Marsy’s Law rights and is declining to be named publicly, of attacking him in his apartment in Pompano Beach on or about August 6, 2021.

The victim says he has been left permanently blinded by the assault. The Makarenko’s oldest son Vladyslav, was arrested while in Alabama when the family was taken into custody last Spring, but charges were dropped a few months later when Broward County Sheriff’s Office investigators determined he was out of state at the time of the alleged assault.

CBS Miami reporter Karli Barnett spoke with the Markarenko family, first with Inna who was released from an immigration detention facility on a $10,000 bond. “We were very happy in this country,” she told Barnett. “But our happiness was broken March 10.” That was the date the family was arrested in the alleged assault which prosecutors added a hate crime enhancement because of the victim’s sexual orientation.

According to the arrest documents, 19-year-old Oleh [Alex] Makarenko and the victim had been romantically involved for about nine months, but the victim said Alex told him his father was not accepting him as gay.

Screenshot/YouTube CBS Miami

“I never heard about this person,” Inna told CBS Miami. “Maybe if it was some communication, maybe it was for some reason. I don’t know. I want so much to see my son to hug him and to give him some questions, because I don’t understand.”

Inna explained her son has a fiancée. She also said her family has no malice toward gay people.

“God loves everyone,” she said. She added that they have witnesses that can vouch they were not at the alleged victim’s residence the night of the alleged assault because they were celebrating her daughter’s birthday party. 

“The rule is not working here. Be good, do good, and you will be fine. No,” she said. “One day, someone can just point a finger on you and police can catch you, even without evidence or anything.”

Barnett reported that initially the victim told police he was drunk and fell down changing his story the following February six months later when he said that he was attacked by the Markarenko family.

“He was really a victim from August until February,” said Inna. “But in February, when he came to the police and said it was me and my family who beat him, he became a liar, not victim.”

The Makarenko’s came to the U.S. from Ukraine seeking asylum in 2016. Their next hearing was Friday, August 5th to determine their status. The outcome currently is unknown.

Accused of hate crime against gay man, Pompano Beach family claims “accusations false:”

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Warning label slapped on LGBTQ+ related books by Florida school district

Books receiving these warnings disproportionately include stories featuring LGBTQ+ and titles about communities of color

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Courtesy Stephana Ferrell/Florida Freedom to Read Project

NAPLES – The Collier County Public Schools District in Southwestern Florida which includes the city of Naples, has placed labels that read “Advisory notice to parents” in capital letters on books available to students dealing with race-related and LGBTQ+ themes.

New York City-based PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the U.S. and worldwide through the advancement of literature, noted that Collier Schools had attached a warning to the description label on over 100 books listed on the district’s online library catalog and physical labels were affixed to hard copies of the same books.

This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students,” the label states. “This book will also be identified in the Destiny [online access] system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.”

The books receiving these warnings disproportionately include stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters and plot lines and titles about communities of color.

NBC News Out reported the district began adding the labels in February, after the district’s legal representative spoke with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group that last year issued a “Porn in Schools Report.” 

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said in response: “This alarming development is just the latest in an onslaught of attacks against students’ freedom to read in Florida. Even if access to these books is not technically restricted, the labeling of these books risks attaching a stigma to the topics they cover and the books themselves. Under the guise of ‘parental rights,’ interest groups have been empowered by opportunistic elected officials and are now hijacking public schools. Every child deserves the right to learn from a diverse set of voices and perspectives, and to freely access the books they wish to read.”

Children’s books such as Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love were among titles labeled with a warning. In addition, authors targeted include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, George Johnson, Ibram Kendi, Ellen Hopkins, Ashley Hope Pérez, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Arundhati Roy, and John Updike–among many others. 

PEN America found that a warning to parents was inserted alongside a total of at least 110 titles in the school’s online catalog, saying, “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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