Emer Roy Mulcahy grew up in Ireland at a time of violent political discourse when messages were sent through car bombs. But raising a transgender child in Florida, she said, makes that history seem mild.
“I feel more scared now in my home than I ever did growing up there,” she said. “The state’s in my home, in my bedroom. You're obsessing over my kid’s genitalia. You're picking on my kid’s teachers. You're intimidating media specialists. You're creeping into colleges. You're threatening the livelihoods of doctors.”
Mulcahy was among hundreds of parents, LGBTQ+ people, and allies at the Florida Capitol on Monday, speaking out against more than 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration by the legislature this year. Those include proposals to outlaw transgender medical care for children and expand a controversial “don’t say gay'' law.
Equality Florida held a press conference in Tallahassee giving voice to those individuals the same day the Florida Senate advanced a bill that could ban gender-affirming care for minors and prohibit state medical coverage of procedures for adults.
Even as the Senate scaled back provisions some fear will lead to children being taken away from their homes, parents expressed alarm at continued antagonizing by the state.
“Free states don't throw parents in jail for caring for their children,” said Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf.
Democratic members of the Florida legislature said it’s especially discouraging to see a wave of hateful bills seemingly pursued for the sake of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential ambitions. Less than a decade ago, many Republicans in the purple state supported extending civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ people.
“All of the sudden, being fascist was cool again,” said Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani. Her district includes the site of the Pulse shooting, which Wolf notably survived.
Out Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones recalled that DeSantis visited the site of Pulse in his first year in office and even promised that LGBTQ+ people would not be under threat during his tenure. But DeSantis has since targeted LGBTQ+ Floridians in numerous ways, signing bills restricting what sports transgender girls can play and restricting or barring instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.
Florida voters notably have voted out half the LGBTQ lawmakers to hold office during DeSantis’ tenure. Jones, in contrast, has been elected during that time as the first out Senator in Florida. But he’s worried how readily lawmakers ignore the well-being of many Floridians.
“We have to come to the Capitol to protect our dignity and to legitimize our existence here in this state,” he said. "While we thought the fight was over, we are committed to continuing the fight."
Regina Livingston, CEO of Unspoken Treasure Society, who is a Black trans woman, spoke out as well. "We're in this tumultuous time," she said. "But what we have to do is band together we have to join together and we have to fight because their voices be heard. "
Attacks have been especially fierce against trans children, even as some who grew up in Florida earn national, distinctly positive attention. Mother Paula Pifer showed up with photographs from Vogue magazine, which included her trans daughter, Hunter Pifer, in a recent photo shoot. The younger Pifer had completed a transition to female by the time she was 18 and went on to graduate from the University of Florida.
But students today face more threats from the state. Shane Mu, Mulcahy’s child, discussed a fear, amid rising hate, of even trying on clothes at retail dressing rooms.
"The Republican Party has been getting increasingly authoritarian,” Shane said. “They have been getting away with more and more, and they have received very little very broad criticism from national agencies. They are banning books in schools. they are banning college classes. And if SB 254 passes, they are going to put trans kids in state custody and consider their parents to be child abusers."
But amid all the attacks, Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, a lesbian, said there are reasons to hope. She suggested the flip side to the flurry of hateful bills is the clear knowledge among members od the far right that in the long run, they are losing their fight against tolerance.
“You don't oppress folks unless you're afraid that they're going to win a battle,” Rayner-Goolsby said.