Tourism grants designed to boost visitors for cultural events in Brevard County are facing new scrutiny after Rep. Randy Fine singled out Space Coast Pride, as the County Commission considers giving a tourism cultural grant to the LGBTQ organization’s 2024 Pridefest event.
The commission is scheduled Tuesday to consider funding for 25 cultural grants totaling $530,000 for the 2023-24 budget year that begins Oct. 1. The money comes from Brevard County’s 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.
Last month, multiple groups across the county were recommended by the advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council and its Cultural Committee to receive grants for drawing tourists to the county. Space Coast Pride is a nonprofit that offers community support for the LGBTQ community, as well as hosting its annual Pridefest in Melbourne. The group was singularly called out by Fine, despite meeting the qualifications for the grant money.
“Just learned that the County Commission vote next week will be to directly fund Drag Queen Story Time in downtown Melbourne using your tax dollars. If you do not believe we should have government-sponsored child grooming activities, please let your County Commissioner know,” Fine wrote in a Facebook post last week.
Fine said he learned about the funding from County Commissioner John Tobia. Space Coast Pride’s last Pridefest featured a drag queen story time, which came under fire from Fine and some other Brevard County elected officials.
In a subsequent interview, Fine said he did not specifically call on the County Commission to reject the grant to the Space Coast Pride event, but wanted to make the public aware of the issue and the agenda item by sharing the information through his Facebook post.
Fine said a concern he has about the drag queen story time is that it has been held outdoors, where passersby who are not in the area to attend Pridefest activities might be able to see the event. Fine said he would feel the same if an organization held a “stripper story time,” because “a sexualized program is inappropriate for children.”
Some have called drag queen story time a sexualized representation of LGBTQ culture that is inappropriate for children. Those in the LGBTQ community said they simply want the same rights of self-expression as everyone else, and parents are able to choose for themselves which events their children attend or not. They have condemned Fine in the past, contending that he has mislabeling their activities as “grooming.”
LGBTQ groups across the state and country have pushed back against recent policies in Florida that have targeted their community. LGBTQ issues have become a focal point for Republican lawmakers hoping to win voters over on matters of culture war. Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign have called such actions “disturbing” and discriminatory.
The next Pridefest is scheduled to take place in downtown Melbourne on Sept. 23, with the parade starting at 11 a.m. and festivities running from noon until 6 p.m. But the grant the County Commission is considering would be for the Sept. 21, 2024, event, because that is the one that would fall in the 2023-24 county budget year.
Last year’s Pridefest events attracted more than 1,300 people from outside Brevard to the Space Coast, meeting the criteria set for being eligible for the upcoming tourism grants. The estimates on out-of-county visitors comes from cellphone data tracked by a company that works with the Space Coast Office of Tourism.
The Pridefest event also earned high-profile sponsorships from companies like L3Harris, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin.
Tourism grants are recommended annually by the Tourist Development Council and approved by the County Commission, which will vote on disbursing the funds on Tuesday.
Funding for the 25 grants ― which would total $530,000 for the 2023-24 budget year that begins Oct. 1 ― would come from Brevard County’s 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.
Applicants drawing 1,000 to 2,500 out-of-county visitors are eligible for $15,000 grants, under guidelines previously approved by the County Commission. In July, Space Coast Pride was among seven organizations recommended for $15,000 grants by the TDC’s Cultural Committee.
County Commissioner Rob Feltner did not comment on pulling funding from Space Coast Pride specifically, but said that the cultural grants overall need to be reevaluated, and he’d prioritize money focused on beach safety and lifeguards.
“I’m not opposed to those events. If I have a choice between funding those and lifeguards, I’m going to choose lifeguards,” he said. “Quite frankly, if you eliminate funding for one event and put that toward lifeguards, that wouldn’t get you there.”
County Commissioner Jason Steele said he would support pulling cultural grant funding for Space Coast Pride and six other organizations recommended for cultural grants that attract between 1,000 and 2,500 out-of-county visitors.
He said that’s because the recommended allocations for the 25 organizations was above the $400,000 originally budgeted for this cultural grant program.
“I don’t see any reason why they should be given $15,000” for attracting less than 2,500 out-of-county visitors, Steele said.
The six other organizations that each would lose the recommended $15,000 grants under his proposal are:
- Field Manor Foundation
- Green Gables at Historic Riverview Village
- Melbourne Art Festival
- Melbourne Municipal Band Association
- Space Coast Art Festival
- Surfside Playhouse
Steele said his approach makes good business sense, without getting into an “ugly conversation” about a single arts or cultural entity that some people find controversial.
“That’s a no-win situation for everybody,” Steele said. “I want to find a way to resolve this peacefully and without conflict.”
Mary Laburda, vice president of Space Coast Pride, said the group has been discussions as to how to handle the recent negative attention from Fine and what could be done to reach the Board of County Commissioners, but that no decisions had been made.
“We’re in discussions right now as to what to do. We’ve been made aware. We’re trying to decide if we should attend the meeting and what that would like,” Laburda said.
The County Commission is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Brevard County Government Center, located at 2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way in Viera, with the vote on the cultural grants on the agenda.
http://rssfeeds.floridatoday.com/~/768043079/0/brevard/news~Brevard-grant-for-Space-Coast-Pride-event-under-scrutiny-after-Randy-Fines-Facebook-post/ Brevard County grant for Space Coast Pride event questioned