Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says he vetoed $32m in arts funding because of ‘sexual’ festivals

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said that he killed $32 million in arts funding because some local theater festivals have “sexual” content.

DeSantis vetoed the funding earlier this month, Axios Miami reports. The staunch Republican cited “sexual” festivals as the reason for the cuts at a Thursday press conference.

“You have your tax dollars being given in grants to things like the Fringe Festival, which is like a sexual festival where they’re doing all this stuff,” DeSantis said.

“I can’t sell the Fringe Festival to taxpayers, nor would I want to try to sell the Fringe Festival to taxpayers.”

But those who run and have attended the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival disagree. Tempestt Halstead, festival producer, told The Independent the event features programming across genres, including events for children.

Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday, pictured, he is cutting millions in arts funding because of “sexual” festivals (Governor Ron DeSantis / Facebook)
Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday, pictured, he is cutting millions in arts funding because of “sexual” festivals (Governor Ron DeSantis / Facebook)

“In referring to the fringe as a “sexual” festival, he incorrectly characterized our festival and misrepresented our contributions to the arts community, locally, nationally and internationally,” Halstead said.

State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, said the festival isn’t sexual, and suggested another reason the governor pulled the funding.

“It does feature drag queens and other forms of artistic expression that DeSantis has wanted to censor despite courts telling him otherwise,” she told The Miami-Herald.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida cannot enforce a law that would limit drag shows. The law, which DeSantis championed, would have made it a misdemeanor for a venue to knowingly let a child into a sexually explicit performance that could be considered obscene for their age.

DeSantis’ press secretary responded to The Independent’s request for comment by sending a link to the Orlando Fringe Festival’s programming, and to a tweet from the governor’s communications director, Bryan Griffin, who shared the ad of a show titled, ”Captain Havoc and the Big-Titty Bog Witches.”

The Tampa International Fringe Festival, which put on the show highlighted by Griffin, said in a statement DeSantis “mischaracterized” their festival.

“Shows at a fringe festival, including ours, can include theatre, children’s storytelling, acrobatics, magic, dance, music, and more,” the statement read. “Companies selected come from broad swath of backgrounds and ideologies. That is the beauty of fringe - there is something for everyone, and we don’t try to gatekeep that.”

Several cultural organizations, many centered around Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities, are also impacted by the recent arts funding veto.

The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center lost more than $70,000, while the state’s Holocaust Memorial Committee lost $47,000, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. Jewish community centers throughout the state are losing more than $700,000 combined.

In addition, more than $20,000 was cut from World AIDS Museum funding, the Sun Sentinel reports.

Bari Newport, artistic director of Florida theater company Gablestage, said cuts like these can destroy organizations.

“Depending on the size of the organization, it’s either fatal or it’s beyond an inconvenience,” Newport told The Miami-Herald.

DeSantis faced heavy criticism last month when he signed new legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Climate Law.”

The law, which goes into effect on July 1, removes the phrase “climate” several times from Florida state law. It also reduces regulations around gas pipelines and repeals state grant programs that encouraged the use of renewable energy.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated on June 28 to include comment from Tempestt Halstead and DeSantis’ press secretary. On July 2, 2024, this article was updated to include a statement from the Tampa Fringe Festival organizers.