Florida Bill Would Ban Most Flags in Government Buildings

A statehouse bill that would restrict what types of flags fly in Florida government buildings has civil rights advocates questioning whether the measure is aimed at promoting patriotism or exclusionism.

Filed by Republican state representative David Borrero of Sweetwater, HB 1011 would allow government buildings in the Sunshine State to fly only the Florida flag, the American flag, and flags bearing official logos of the Firefighter Memorial or Prisoners of War and Missing-in-Action. The bill would also require the American flag and state flag in every public school classroom from kindergarten to the university level.

“No other flag may be exposed to public view for exhibition or display, in any manner, by a governmental agency, local government, or unit of local government,” the bill reads.

The bill is up for consideration in the Republican-dominated state legislature at a cultural flashpoint in Florida over the display of gay pride flags and other symbols of pride and equality in school settings and town halls.

Among other controversies, a Sarasota teacher in April 2022 said he was forced to remove a “Coexist” flag, which depicts symbols of various religions alongside one another to promote equality. The teacher had the flag in his classroom for four years before the local school district made him remove it, he said.

Last October, a Wellington parent, Francisco Deliu, sought to sue the Palm Beach County school district after becoming incensed by a gay pride flag in his son's middle school classroom.

Opponents of flag-display restrictions like HB 1011 claim the measures play into an undercurrent of exclusion and bigotry brewing in Florida.

Orlando Gonzales, executive director of local LGBTQ nonprofit SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone), calls Borrero's new legislation “a fake, postured patriotic bill” that contradicts the ideals of free speech.

“We're very proud Americans, but America is made up of a pluralistic society and we are a diverse community. It has never been America and to the exclusion of others,” Gonzales tells New Times. “It's not just about what's being emphasized but what's being excluded. It's important that the American flag is central to our public governments, our schools, but to understand that we're not threatened by other communities, and that we can coexist with others.”

Gonzalez fears this is the latest sign that the state is moving in a draconian direction. A similar bill on government flags was filed in the state senate on February 9.

“What are they afraid of? What is the fear?” Gonzales says. “I think the fear is very clear and that is less and less America is being made of white individuals, and those individuals feel that their power is being threatened.”

The flag debate has previously taken center stage at local school board meetings.

In December, conservative Miami-Dade School Board member Roberto Alonso proposed banning the “display of flags that promote a political issue,” party or candidate in classrooms. After residents and local activists raised concerns that Alonso's proposal targeted gay and Black pride flags, the school board initially agreed to allow flags that represent “federally protected groups,” though it scrapped that protection at a January meeting.

Alonso maintained at the December school board meeting that his proposal was designed “not to create hate but to create unity.”

“I think sometimes we misconstrue things. And no offense to the folks in the back, but the media loves to create some dividing drama… Shame on them,” Alonso said on the dais.

Maxx Fenning, president of LGBTQ advocacy group PRISM, says that flag restrictions that ban the gay pride flag are in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ browbeating on LGBTQ issues in order to score political points.

“At first glance, this feels like a no-brainer that this is directed at pride flags,” Fenning tells New Times.

“We see continuous attacks on efforts to erase us, marginalized people, our community, and to write us out of existence,” he adds. 

Borrero, a construction manager and former Sweetwater city commissioner who now represents parts of Miami-Dade in the state legislature, has not responded to requests for comment.

Borrero was a co-sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education bill, AKA “Don't Say Gay,” which prohibited discussions of sexuality and gender identity in public school classrooms before fourth grade.

At city halls and municipal buildings, the display of non-governmental flags has sparked debate in Florida and across the country.

Last June, Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger declined to raise the gay pride flag on town buildings. Following public outcry, Danzinger doubled down, declaring: “Government flag poles should only be used to fly the country, state, and municipal flags. Period.”

Danzinger claimed he feared that if the pride flag were displayed, the city would have to consider requests from countless other groups, including Satanists, to display their symbols. He referenced the U.S. Supreme Court's May 2022 decision ruling that the City of Boston improperly refused to hold a Christian-flag raising event. (The court found that because the city had allowed nearly 300 similar events, during which it temporarily displayed non-governmental flags, it would be discriminatory to reject the Christian flag event.)

Borrero filed his bill on flag rules on February 22. If passed, the law would take effect on July 1. As it stands, the bill would prohibit flags representing countries, cultures, and sports teams, among other symbols.

The state senate version was referred to legislative committees for Community Affairs, Rules, and Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

School districts across Florida, including in Miami-Dade County, already have restrictions on political messaging by public school staff. School district officials cited such rules when forcing the Sarasota teacher to take down his “Coexist” flag, he said.

Gonzales tells New Times he wishes lawmakers would prioritize more pressing issues like affordable housing rather than indulging cultural wars.

“It is very clear that when you are not speaking candidly about the history of slavery, the history of LGBTQ people in society, and their contributions to society… you're really trying to create a stigma and a sense of dominance,” Gonzales adds.