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GOP lawmakers take aim at LGBTQ+ 'safe places' program in small Florida town

FILE - In this June 24, 2015 photo, Officer Jim Ritter places a "Safe Place" sticker on the window of a business in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Some central Florida lawmakers said they are considering “all legislative, legal and executive options available” to stop business owners in a small town from voluntarily displaying rainbow decals in their windows indicating that they are “safe places” for LGBTQ people who feel threatened.(Ellen M. Banne/The Seattle Times via AP, File)

MOUNT DORA, Fla. (AP) — Some central Florida lawmakers said they were considering “all legislative, legal and executive options available” to stop business owners in a small town from voluntarily displaying rainbow decals in their windows indicating that they are “safe place” for LGBTQ+ people who feel threatened.

Four Republican lawmakers wrote a letter to officials in Mount Dora two weeks ago warning that the new, optional city-sponsored program could put the central Florida community outside Orlando “in the crosshairs of potentially detrimental and absolutely unnecessary economic harm.”

The lawmakers cited boycotts of Bud Light and Target, which followed the brands’ efforts to promote diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.

Mount Dora’s city council approved the Safe Place Initiative last month. The city of 17,000 residents is known for its antique shops and weekend festivals.

“The mission of the Safe Place Initiative is to provide the community with easily accessible safety information and safe places throughout the city they can turn to if they are the victims of an anti-LGBTQ+ or other hate crimes,” the city of Mount Dora said on its website.

Safe Place programs are visible throughout metro Orlando — as well as throughout the U.S. — including ones sponsored by the Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, all in central Florida.

The council’s decision to approve the program has coincided with an uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ incidents, including vandalism last month at two LGBTQ+ centers in Orlando.

Democratic state lawmaker Anna Eskamani posted the Republican lawmakers’ letter on social media, saying it “might be the weirdest letter I’ve ever read.”

“Let LGBTQ+ (people) exist and stop politicizing everything!” wrote Eskamani, whose district is in Orlando. “So much manufactured panic from the right. Meanwhile families can’t even afford to live in Florida. Focus on that instead.”

In May, the Humans Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ rights organization in the U.S., joined other civil rights organizations in issuing a travel advisory for Florida, warning that newly passed laws and policies may pose risks to minorities, immigrants and gay travelers.