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Historically Black fraternity drops Florida for convention because of DeSantis policies

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The oldest historically Black collegiate fraternity in the U.S. says it is relocating a planned convention in two years from Florida because of what it described as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration’s “harmful, racist and insensitive” policies towards African Americans.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity said this week that it would move its 2025 convention from Orlando to another location that is yet undecided. The convention draws between 4,000 and 6,000 people and has an economic impact of $4.6 million, the fraternity said.

The decision comes after the NAACP and other civil rights organizations this spring issued a travel advisory for Florida, warning that recently passed laws and policies are openly hostile to African Americans, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Willis Lonzer, the fraternity’s general president, said in statement on Wednesday that the decision was motivated in part by Florida’s new education standards that require teachers to instruct middle school students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”

“Although we are moving our convention from Florida, Alpha Phi Alpha will continue to support the strong advocacy of Alpha Brothers and other advocates fighting against the continued assault on our communities in Florida by Governor Ron DeSantis,” Lonzer said.

An email seeking comment on Saturday about the fraternity’s decision was sent to Jeremy Redfern, the governor’s press secretary and the governor’s office.

DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, has come under fire this week over Florida’s new education standards. Among those criticizing the Florida governor on Friday was a rival for the Republican nomination, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican in the Senate.

Responding to the criticism, DeSantis said Friday that he was “defending” Florida “against false accusations and against lies. And we’re going to continue to speak the truth.”

In May, the NAACP joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the Sunshine State, where tourism is one of the state’s largest job sectors. The groups cited recent laws that prohibited state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as critical race theory, and the Stop WOKE Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses.

They also cited laws that they say made life more difficult for immigrants in Florida and limited discussions on LGBTQ topics in schools.

At least nine other organizations or associations have pulled the plug on hosting conventions in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, two of the state’s most population convention cities, because of Florida’s political climate, according to local media reports.

Florida is one of the most popular states in the U.S. for tourists, and tourism is one of its biggest industries. More than 137.5 million tourists visited Florida last year, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Tourism supports 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, and visitors spent $98.8 billion in Florida in 2019, the last year figures are available.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

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