Governor DeSantis’ attendance at Republican fundraiser draws protests from progressive advocacy groups

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ALACHUA, Fla. — About 30 demonstrators from a coalition of progressive activist groups protested Governor Ron DeSantis’ stances on abortion and LGBTQ rights as the governor spoke at a fundraising event Alachua GOP Thursday.

DeSantis was a keynote speaker at the 20th Annual Ronald Regan Black Tie Blue Jeans Fundraiser for the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee.

Media were banned from the event held at the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center

Various progressive organizations, including the Alachua County Labor Coalition, North Central Florida Indivisible, and the Gainesville Chapter of the National Women’s Liberation, participated in the protest.

Laura Blecha, co-organizer of the women’s liberation group and professor of physics at the University of Florida, said she was unhappy with the statewide 15-week abortion ban that came into force on July 1.

Governor Ron DeSantis’ stance on abortion was a key point of contention for protesters during Thursday’s demonstration in Alachua. (Elise Plunk/WUFT News)

“Pregnancy is a life-threatening medical condition,” Blecha said. She and other members of the women’s group criticized the bill for having “no medical basis” and for undermining essential freedoms at the heart of their organization’s belief system.

“Bodily autonomy is a kind of mental freedom,” Blecha said. “No one should be forced to give birth.”

Erica Bales, also a member of the women’s liberation group, said the purpose of the protest was to ensure Alachua residents heard voices raised against the governor’s presence and his policies.

“I just want to get attention,” Bales said. “Having DeSantis pursue an aggressive anti-abortion agenda is ultimately going to be really dangerous for a lot of people and families.”

Other protesters expressed concerns about DeSantis’ lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Gainesville resident Susan Browning-Chriss, who describes herself as a ‘radical retiree’, handed out brightly colored handmade signs with phrases such as ‘Catch ’em halfway through’ while cheering on passing cars passing who honked their approval. She said her longtime connection to the LGBTQ+ community gave her a reason to join in on objections to DeSantis’ attendance.

“I’ve been fighting for 50 years,” she said. She said she was concerned that the governor’s support for the Parental Rights in Education Bill, commonly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, could be a step backwards in gains made to make advancing LGBTQ rights. The bill has been widely criticized for having a chilling effect on community members.

Susan Browning-Chriss says she’s been fighting for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights for 50 years and isn’t about to stop. “I’m a radical retiree,” she said. (Elise Plunk/WUFT News)

Her husband, Mike Chriss, also attended the protest.

“My daughter is in a gay marriage,” Chriss said. “I had a lot of dogs in this fight.”

Chriss has spoken of her desire to defend people like her daughter against legislation that could potentially threaten their way of life.

“They’re all good, genuine people,” he said. “Somebody has to be there to help them, you know, to protect them.”

The protest drew a mix of responses from passers-by.

Some drivers honk and wave at protesters while others shout “Republicans forever.” A few people made obscene gestures through rolled down car windows.

Bobby Mermer, protests coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said he hopes the message to DeSantis and his supporters is clear.

“He’s not welcome here,” he said. “He does not share the values ​​of Alachua County.”

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