Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has given the public some clarity on his veto last week of $32 million in arts and culture grants from next year’s state budget. 

According to a story published in the Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis said the cause was Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, which he characterized as being overtly “sexual” and therefore an inappropriate recipient of state funds. 

While it’s unclear if the Orlando festival was slated to receive any money from the grants, the state of Florida awards money for cultural projects based on a ranked list. The Fringe Festival was ranked toward the bottom. DeSantis said the event should spur Florida lawmakers to reevaluate how state money is spent. 

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 01: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about a toll highway relief program during a press conference held at the Greater Miami Expressway Agency on April 01, 2024, in Miami, Florida. The Governor announced a second consecutive year of a Toll Relief Program, which is expected to cut the toll rates of frequent commuters in half by applying a toll credit from April 2024 to March 2025. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. DeSantis Vetoes $32 M. in Arts and Culture Grants from 2025 Budget

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“You have your tax dollars being given in grants to things like the Fringe Festival, which is like a sexual festival where they’re doing all this stuff,” the Governor said at a press conference, adding later that “when I see money being spent that way, I have to be the one to stand up for taxpayers and say, you know what, that is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” 

“In referring to the fringe as a ‘sexual’ festival, he incorrectly characterized our festival and misrepresented our contributions to the arts community, locally, nationally and internationally,” Tempestt Halstead, producer of the Orlando Fringe Festival, said in a statement. Halstead said the festival was one of 200 such events around the world that are “contributing to a global movement of artistic expression and cultural exchange.”

Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando said this year’s festival was not “sexual,” though she noted that it “does feature drag queens and other forms of artistic expression that DeSantis has wanted to censor despite courts telling him otherwise!”

In 2023, lawmakers asked to ban drag shows that allow children and stop venues from admitting children to adult live performances. That proposed legislation was blocked by a federal judge due to violating First Amendment rights, a decision that was later bolstered by the Supreme Court.

Among the institutions affected by DeSantis’s culture funding veto were the Tampa Museum of Art and the Orlando Museum of Art.