Lake County lawmakers decry ‘virtue signaling’ as Mount Dora joins ‘Safe Place Program’

GayPride spectators carrying Rainbow gay flags during Montreal Pride Parade
Nearby law enforcement agencies in Orlando and Orange and Osceola counties have joined the same program.

Mount Dora Police Department is on tap to become the 377th law enforcement agency engaged in a “Safe Place Program” — but the Lake County legislative delegation is urging the city to turn back now before it makes the city unsafe.

The City Council approved the program last week, which includes displaying a rainbow sticker on buildings around the city. Some Republican lawmakers are concerned that could make the city the next to feel the same wrath that’s tanked sales of Bud Light and made rainbow T-shirts at Target a target.

That’s according to a Monday letter on the Lake County legislative delegation’s letterhead that decried Mount Dora’s “virtue signaling.”

“We won’t stand for any policy that leads to divisive and unsafe conditions for the residents of our great county,” says the letter, which lists Republicans Sen. Dennis Baxley and Republican Reps. Keith Truenow, Taylor Yarkosky and Stan McClain as signatories.

That reaction to the program has Mount Dora Mayor Crissy Stile thinking there’s been a misunderstanding.

“This Safe Place initiative is to protect anyone — it’s not biased by gender, sexual preference, whatever age, or race,” she said. She noted that there’s been some distortion of the program on social media. “It’s all inclusive. … The stickers would bring awareness to the fact that we’re a safe place to be.”

The delegation asked a member of the City Council to appear at the delegation meeting on Tuesday. Stile said she couldn’t go due to another event honoring the city as Florida Greenways and Trails location.

Bud Light and Target have both become the focus of anger because of campaigns reaching out to the LGBTQ community. A transgender influencer endorsed Bud Light in an online campaign. And a Pride month display at Target had apparel decorated with rainbows.

McClain was the sponsor of a bill (HB 1069) that was seen as an extension of last year’s Parental Rights in Education Law. It more tightly regulated the use of personal pronouns at school and expanded book-challenging ability. McClain is now running for Senate.

Yarkosky responded with a written statement Wednesday saying that he thought Mount Dora’s participation “seeking to force Seattle style political mandates on our small businesses” was sending the wrong message.

“We should be weary of deceptive and coercive mandates administered by local government that could have an opposite effect on public safety as well and put our small businesses at risk,” he wrote, calling the city and the county, “very welcoming and inclusive communities.”

The eight-year-old Safe Place program is run through the Seattle Police Department and seeks to encourage awareness of hate crimes and encourage reporting of crimes. The go-ahead from the Mount Dora City Council means that the city’s police department will be applying to be “Safe Place” approved, through the Global Safe Place initiative.

It involves reviewing Mount Dora’s policies and procedures to ensure that best practices are being used for crime reporting. Businesses can apply to display the decal indicating they are participating.

The memo accompanying the resolution says the initiative is to provide the “LGBTQ community with easily accessible safety information and safe places throughout the city they can turn to.” But the presentation at last week’s Council meeting emphasized how it could improve police relations with “marginalized groups” who may be distrustful of law enforcement.

“This is a positive program, there is not one ounce of negativity in it,” interim Mount Dora Police Chief Michael Gibson told the Council.

That’s not how the legislative delegation members see it, though, according to the letter that Baxley’s office confirmed.

“You are picking winners and losers in your city with this program and alienating otherwise friendly businesses and residents from one another on the basis of their participating or lack thereof in this virtue signaling program,” the letter reads. “We believe that you are, in fact, creating a less safe environment in Mount Dora, contrary to the intentions you claim.”

Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani posted the letter on social media and ridiculed the “weird” letter. “So much manufactured panic from the right. Meanwhile families can’t even afford to live in Florida. Focus on that instead,” she said.

Evan Power, Republican Party of Florida Vice Chairman, responded, “It’s not weird, we just refuse to bend the knee to your rabble rousing anymore.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • tom palmer

    August 22, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    God forbid that local officials should be virtuous. These legislators should listen to someone besides hate groups. Otherwise they should put out a press release saying they endorse beating up gay people, blacks, Hispanics or anyone else some of their constituents find out of place.

  • SteveHC

    August 22, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    The “people” (and I use that term VERY loosely here) that are wringing their hands and decrying Mount Dora’s adoption of the Safe Place Program sure are pretty sick and twisted, THAT’S for sure…

  • Way to Go!

    August 22, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    Good for Mount Dora PD! A nice place is even nicer!

  • EliotG

    August 22, 2023 at 5:55 pm

    So, the Mount Dora city council is virtuous because they are in effect promoting the LGBTQ+ agenda to show how tolerant and diverse they are, fighting for social justice. I never knew Mount Dora wasn’t a “Safe Place”. This “Global Safe Place” program is run through the Seatle Police Department and it seem to me that Seatle is not a safe place to be. And if you oppose this nonsense, you get labeled a bigot, a racist, being intolerant, and an all around nasty person. So be it.

    • EliotG

      August 22, 2023 at 6:17 pm

      Adding this. If business want to display LGBTQ+ signs, that is their right. Government buildings on the other hand should only display the American flag and the State flag. Period.

      • Michael K

        August 22, 2023 at 6:50 pm

        But in Florida, some people are apparently “more American” than others – i.e. the Florida legislature attacks on LGBTQ people and which makes them targets. And the truth is, there are police departments and city agencies in some locales that have a horrible track record and history with people of color and other groups, resulting in brutality, injustice and even death. Not all Americans are welcome in every civic space – they should be, but ignorance, prejudice, and hate are used against fellow citizens every day.

        PS: I have friends and family in Seattle. It is a very safe city. You should visit sometime.

        • EliotG

          August 23, 2023 at 9:49 am

          You imply that racism is systemic and prevalent in our society. Examples? How are LGBTQ+’s targeted?
          IMO, the left extrapolates systemic racism from single isolated incidents like George Floyd.
          The left also like to point out racial disparities where minorities are singled out but it ignores big cities (most under Democrat policies) where most crime is committed by young minority men.
          The left also likes to equate past injustices with current society. Slavery and Jim Crow laws no longer exist in the US.
          P.S. From the Seatle Times dated 2/7/2023

          • Thank you

            August 24, 2023 at 12:44 am

            Thank you for proving the point.

          • Edward Freeman

            August 24, 2023 at 2:33 pm

            The Ku Klux Klan, Robert E. Lee, and The Proud Boys have all made the same arguments. Like EliotG, they all were the racism and homophobia that they denied existed in American society.

  • David H Hirt

    August 22, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Desantis started all this malarkey by messing with Disney. Disney is more important to Florida than dictator Desantis who will be a one term politican, he doesnt have what it takes.

  • Shuvitt

    August 23, 2023 at 1:23 am

    If Mount Dora is truly a “safe place” for all, then stickers designating any specific group are unnecessary.

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 23, 2023 at 5:26 am

    Safe Place Program is the bestest of love one another. Thank you

  • Llort8822

    August 23, 2023 at 8:08 am

    Will they be painting the downtown pink again?

  • Cheri

    August 23, 2023 at 9:15 am

    In all this “don’t say Gay BS”, we need safe havens for the LGBTQ community! Show some ❤️

  • Trevor Morris

    August 24, 2023 at 5:24 am

    Lake County has a long history of electing idiots to the Florida Legislature. Glad that Mt Dora saw fit to elect some folks that are better. Thank you Mt Dora. F%$k you Florida Legislature

  • Kacie

    September 4, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    So happy to see Mt. Dora stabd with the LGBTQIA2S community! Moving out of Florida was heartbreaking, but now I live in Colorado and while we have problems like all places, the respect and acceptance extended to my community and really any diverse group is just a total 180 from most parts of Florida. If Only I could still go the springs every day 💙 Good job, Mt. Dora! Haters gonna hate!

Comments are closed.


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