Some LGBTQ Floridians are taking self-defense lessons amid a hostile political climate

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A series of free classes are being held in the Tampa Bay region to teach self-defense skills to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Comes as implements from Florida new laws that target their rights and, as the Department of Homeland Security warns, threats of violence have increased nationally against the LGBTQ+ community.

Family collective foundan LGBTQ+ support group, organizes the events while the self-defense company Mark of arms offers the training. An introductory class was held in St. Petersburg in March, while a second class was held at CrossFit ABF in Clearwater on a recent Saturday.

About 30 participants stood in pairs around the gym as instructor Brian Anderson-Needham guided them through self-defense techniques. They took turns, with one pretending to be an aggressor trying to grab or hit their partner while the other practiced maneuvers to break free and defend themselves.

Courses like these are useful given the current political climate, said Cet Mohamed-Moore, co-founder of Found Family Collective. Some state officials “will sow division and create discord and turn everything into an ‘us vs. them’ situation,” he said, which could embolden those seeking to harm the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s disheartening, but also, to see that we can continue to come together to do things that resonate with people and really help them better themselves is very encouraging,” Mohamed-Moore said.

A new law that, next July, will prevent the use of transgender people many toilets that match his identity prompted Noah Lovell of Lakeland to take the class. As a trans, non-binary person who uses a wheelchair, Lovell worries that bathroom safety could become an issue. The class boosted his confidence.

Stephanie Colombini


WUSF public media

Noah Lovell (left) and his partner Zoe say they are worried about new laws targeting the LGBTQ community. They say having “queer spaces” to support each other is more important than ever.

“I definitely learned how to protect myself from choking and being kidnapped and things like that, and how to use my wheelchair, not as a disadvantage, but as an advantage,” Lovell said.

The lesson also provided a sense of safety for other attendees, like Andi, who asked only her name for fear of reprisal.

“I’m reaching out to my community more knowing that we can take care of each other, but it’s getting really scary, even going outside looking visibly weird or anything is terrifying,” Andi said.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin on terrorism this week that these individuals or events associated with the LGBTQIA+ community are “likely targets of potential violence” in the coming months by domestic extremists.

Almost 200 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents were reported to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project for 2022, triple the number reported in 2021.

Data about hate crimes is incomplete in Florida, but of the 148 reported by the state attorney general’s office in 2021, just under 25% were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.

Training participants say they hope to never have to use the skills they learned in class. But Andi’s partner Ingrid, who also asked that it be done in her first name only, said she doesn’t want to wait for something to happen to prepare.

Stephanie Colombini


WUSF public media

“A lot of my friends are looking for escape routes, you know, to move somewhere,” said Ingrid, who is transgender and worried about support. health care because of a new law restricting access to hormones and other gender-affirming treatments in the state. “Unfortunately for me it is much more difficult. I’ve got a kid here to take care of and they’re weird too, so, you know, getting back into the community and trying to support each other is important now more than ever.”

The organizers wanted to create an inclusive environment. Before attendees entered the door, there was a sign that read, “Hate Has No Home Here,” in rainbow lettering. At the beginning of the session, the group leaders set ground rules: everyone should respect each other’s identities, speak up if they feel uncomfortable, and encourage each other regardless of skill level.

This meant a lot to Lovell’s partner Zoe, who is queer and neurodivergent. Zoe is a teacher in the region and says nine educational laws the goal of silencing queer personnel. Bonding with fellow LGBTQ+ residents in a safe place allowed for a positive learning experience.

“Finding queer spaces over the last six months has been so amazing, and for anyone who doesn’t feel like they have a community, like, we’re out there and we love you and we want you to come out and be yourself,” Zoe said. .

The group plans to hold additional classes on rideshare safety in July and active shooter scenarios this fall. Donations are encouraged but not required.

You can find out more about how to attend upcoming classes or other events organized by Found Family Collective on their website Facebook page.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

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