Axios Tampa Bay

Picture of the Tampa Bay skyline with TPA written across it.

Wednesday, you're beautiful!

🌻 Sunny. 70°/45°.

  • Sounds like: "Bloom," Troye Sivan.

Today's newsletter is 910 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Gender marker policy leaves trans Floridians in fear

Several people lie on the ground of a government office holding signs shaped like tombstones. "RIP Attacked by Florida Legislature and DHSMV," one says. "Remember me," another says, held by a person who is covered by a blue, pink and white transgender flag. Onlookers stare and take photos.

Protesters stage a "die-in" demonstration this month at a Hillsborough County Tax Collector's office. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

Hansel Naranjo is used to the fight. He escaped Cuba, where fellow LGBTQ+ people were jailed or expelled from school just for being who they are.

  • He navigated a new country and a new language, eventually coming to own an air-conditioning business and a restaurant.
  • And at 42, after saving up enough money, he started his transition to finally live as the gender he'd known himself to be since childhood.

So when Naranjo, now 64, saw the protesters while he was running an errand at a Hillsborough County Tax Collector's office, he only wished he could join them.

What's happening: The Tampa protest this month was one of six "die-in" demonstrations across the state challenging a new state rule barring transgender people from changing the gender markers on their driver's licenses.

Why it matters: Without identification that matches their gender expression, trans Floridians face the risk of being outed at every traffic stop, visit to the polls, beer run, hotel check-in and more, advocates say.

  • In a 2015 survey of 1,100 trans Floridians, 37% of respondents said such a situation led to denial of service, harassment or assault.

The big picture: A surge in recent years of GOP-led legislation affecting trans people in Florida and across the country has included restrictions on health care for both trans children and adults, limitations on how trans teachers and students can refer to themselves in schools, and bans on using certain restrooms.

What they're saying: "This is about harming trans Floridians who just want to live their lives as they are," Maxx Fenning, a protest organizer and executive director of the youth-led LGBTQ+ rights group PRISM, told Axios.

The other side: "In Florida, you do not get to play identity politics with your driver's license," Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokesperson Molly Best told Axios.

Meanwhile, the agency's unpublicized rollout of the policy wreaked fear and confusion for trans people across the state. A memo notifying tax collectors said that "misrepresenting one's gender" on their driver's license constitutes criminal fraud.

  • Trans Floridians who had changed their gender markers before the rule wondered if they could face penalties. (No, Best told Axios.)
  • Those who hadn't yet, saw their window of opportunity suddenly close.

Zoom in: "I have a target on my back," said Jack Micciche, a former Army medic from Bradenton who'd been planning to update his gender marker before the rule.

  • Micciche, 34, and his partner, India Miller, joined the Tampa protesters who laid down at the tax collector's office holding tombstone-shaped signs.
  • "The Nazis kept track of us too," Miller's poster said.

Nearby, Naranjo watched as he waited in line to get a title for his truck, angry at the situation but grateful they were continuing the fight.

  • He thanked organizers for their work, then he returned to his place in line, taking solace in what his own life had proven true.
  • "We've survived," he said, "and we will survive."

Go deeper

2. πŸ’Έ Clock ticking for transportation funds

Photo illustration of the Florida State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Legislature faces a three-week deadline to alleviate Hillsborough's transportation woes, but whether it'll do so (or how) is anyone's guess.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are sitting on a $562 million pot collected from Hillsborough's voided transportation sales tax while the county's roads remain run-down and its traffic congested.

Catch up fast: Hillsborough voters approved a charter amendment in 2018, creating a 1% "all-for-transportation" sales surtax.

  • It remained in effect for two years before the state Supreme Court struck it down for limiting how the county commission could spend the revenue collected from the tax.
  • The ruling didn't address what to do with the funds the county had already collected. The money's been in limbo since.

State of play: Gov. Ron DeSantis pitched moving the funds to the state Department of Transportation and tasking that agency to create a plan to use the money for the county's road projects.

  • Nobody's moved on that idea. The tax cut package and budget proposed by both chambers do not yet include a plan for distributing the funds, per Florida Politics.

Keep reading: The Tampa Bay Chamber's chairman weighs in

3. The Pulp: Maps galore

Illustration of a pelican eating small Axios logos.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

πŸ—ΊοΈ University of South Florida researchers are collaborating with a Miami advertising startup to map the ocean floor with floating billboards. (Tampa Bay Business Journal)

🏦 A St. Petersburg trust fund for people with special medical needs filed for bankruptcy and is accusing its founder of taking $100 million in an unsanctioned loan. (Tampa Bay Times)

🌊 FEMA has drawn new flood maps for Sarasota County, reassessing the risk to area properties and insurance requirements for high-risk flood zones. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

4. πŸ“ˆ Charted: Our highest-paying industries

Industries with the highest average Glassdoor salaries in the Tampa metro area, 2023
Data: Glassdoor. Chart: Kavya Beheraj and Alice Feng/Axios

Employees in the aerospace and defense industries receive the highest average pay in Tampa Bay, according to Glassdoor data.

Between the lines: The region's top salaries punch below the national average.

  • None of these salaries cracked $90,000, and most of them are under $70,000.

Zoom in: Tampa Bay's largest salary disparities

Stay booked and busy

πŸ“… Upcoming events around the city.

  • Blippi: The Wonderful World Tour at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts on March 3rd: Blippi: The Wonderful World Tour is coming to The Straz for the ultimate curiosity adventure. Join Blippi and special guest Meekah as they discover what makes different cities unique and special.
  • Helping Hands Happy Hour for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay at Centre Club - Tampa on April 11th: The monthly Helping Hands Happy Hour gives nonprofits a platform to raise both funds and awareness, while also providing a networking opportunity for the community. $20.

Hosting an event? Email [email protected].

5. 😍 1 hot local celeb to go

Pink trumpet tree in bloom

St. Pete's famous pink trumpet tree. Photo: Selene San Felice/Axios

Walkers, joggers and bikers on Coffee Pot Bayou have been stopping dead in their tracks this month.

What's happening: The Tabebuia aka pink trumpet tree on the corner of Coffee Pot Boulevard NE and 23rd Avenue NE is in bloom.

  • Its pink petals have made the tree a St. Pete celebrity.

Be smart: The tree is on private property and while the couple that owns it welcomes arbor appreciators on their lawn, photographers should still be courteous.

Go deeper: The Tampa Bay Times talked to the couple who owns the tree and some of its fans during last year's bloom.

A close up of the pink trumpet tree's blooming branches
So pretty! Photo: Selene San Felice/Axios

πŸ§˜β€β™€οΈ Kathryn is trying out a yoga class at the new Speer YMCA.

πŸ™…β€β™€οΈ Selene does not recommend trying this at home.

πŸ“Ί Yacob is watching Tokyo Vice.

This newsletter was edited by Jeff Weiner and copy edited by Azi Najafi.