Florida’s vicious anti-LGBTQ+ campaign has the state at the front America’s so-called ‘culture wars’, and a drag queen is running for office in the hope of creating a brighter future for ‘voiceless’ queer folks living in the sunshine state.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has positioned himself as an unapologetic culture warrior by attacking LGBTQ-inclusive education and whining about the ‘woke’ left.
The Republican presidential hopeful’s zealous drive to roll back protections for trans and queer folks in Florida has turned the state into a breeding ground for right-wing policies.
It’s a political arena that Michael Travis – who performs as the fabulous Erika Rose – is navigating as she tries to unseat incumbent state representative Jim Mooney, a two-term Republican who represents Florida House District 120 in Key West.
If she wins, Rose could become the first openly performing drag queen in the history of Florida’s state legislature. She tells PinkNews that Florida politics must be truly “absurd” if a drag queen is running for office.
“All of the people that I talked to before I officially put out that this is what I’m going to do, they asked me a question: Am I running to win, or am I running to make a statement?” he says.
“Now, I’m running to win. I’m running to go out there and sit across the aisle from representative Mooney, who has trashed the entire Pride system in his district; to sit across the aisle from representative [Spencer] Roach who, when we were in Tallahassee [protesting], went on his little Twitter and is like the ‘trans agitators are here’.
“Because one, yeah, there’s a statement. I’m gonna be sitting across the aisle going, ‘Hi. Hello. We’re equals’ – assuming they don’t get voted out of office.
“But either way, we’re making a statement. The statement has been made. The system is so wacky that a drag queen is running for office.
“My mother reminded me of this: that if I win, great, we won. If I don’t win the election, you still win.
“Somebody out there is going to feel validated and see because that is what I am here for, to let them know that they matter and I am here for them.”
The Florida drag queen wants to be the ‘voice of reason’ in state politics.
Rose decided to run for office after travelling to the state capitol in Tallahassee among hundreds of other performers and LGBTQ+ advocates to protest against Florida’s anti-drag bill (SB 1438) in April.
“I was driving up there – it was about a good 10 hour drive – I reminded myself that I’ve been joking about running for president for the last 20 years because I’ll be 35 years old and old enough, which is really the only qualification I need,” she says.
“And all the scary stuff is coming from the state level here in Florida before Ron DeSantis decided he was going to announce that he’s running for president …
“It was on that drive up there that I was like, ‘We need to run for office. We’ve been talking about this. Running at the city level, like mosquito boards, really isn’t going to do any good for anybody. We’ll run at the state level. At least that way, we can be a voice of reason at the state level.’”
The legislation, which was signed into law by DeSantis in May, allows the state to fine or revoke the liquor licence of an establishment that admits minors to a performance that “simulates nudity, sexual conduct or specific sexual activities”.
Michael ‘Erika Rose’ Travis was among the drag performers and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community that rallied on the steps of Florida’s state capitol to express their anger at politicians’ anti-queer campaign. (YouTube/Reuters)
The anti-drag law was passed on the same day as an expansion on the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, a ban on gender-affirming healthcare and restrictions on what public toilets trans people can use.
A federal judge placed a preliminary injunction on the drag ban in June, citing that the law failed to adequately define what performances needed to be banned to prevent unjust application.
Erika Rose says Florida politicians have ignored the “real issues” residents face – including housing market troubles, the reef system dying and reassuring LGBTQ+ tourists it’s safe to visit the state despite the hostility – and used their time to attack drag queens and trans folks.
“In my personal opinion, because that’s the only one I’ve got right now, we’re going after drag queens because drag queens are historically the loud, bright ones that everybody sees,” he says.
“We’re gonna be the ones that go out and say, ‘That ain’t right.’
“So if you get rid of the drag queens and then you start going after – here it’s less than one per cent of the community – that less than one per cent of the community is not going to have a voice.
“That is basically what I am trying to do is be a voice for the ones who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.”