As the Florida Senate debated the "don't say gay" bill this week, the discussion took a bizarre turn Tuesday ahead of the vote as Florida state Sen. Ileana Garcia, a Republican, shared several accounts about LGBTQ+ people in her life. Over several minutes, she potentially misgendered several loved ones and shared disinformation about gender identity.
Most striking, the Miami Republican declared LGBTQ+ identities as temporary states.
"By the way, gay is not a permanent thing," she said. "LGBT is not a permanent thing, and it's not a bad thing.
She spoke on the floor of a transgender "very good friend of mine."
"Went through the whole transition as an older man, at 58 years old, became a woman. Guess what? He still likes women," she said. "He went through the whole process. And we'd laugh together and I'd say, 'Why do you want to deal with the hormones? Why do you want to have to worry about the extension? Isn't there hair and the boobs and the nails?' And he loved it. And when he went through the transition and had an experience, a sexual experience. With all due respect, there were children and I say this with respect, you realize that he continued to like women."
The words seemed to answer that she understood the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, as opposed to the bill's sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, who described sexual orientation as being "male or female." But while she didn't exhibit Baxley's confusion, she still displayed plenty of ignorance on the floor.
"Another example, another great example that I have, and I have many of them, but once again and I won't say their names because I respect their privacy, is a very good friend who was married with a woman 10 years, divorced, then went on to live with a man for many, many, many years. I traveled a lot with him, adore them both," Garcia said.
"They broke up. And then he remarried a woman. He's in his 60s, very happily married, and has a child. So what am I telling you is that it's not permanent. This isn't a permanent thing. It's not a bad thing, either. It's -- life is a journey. It's a transition. It's a decision."
Her description of being LGBTQ+ as "not permanent," never mind failure to acknowledge bisexuals as the largest share of the LGBTQ+ community, caused immediate uproar online.
She then shared a story from her own family.
"My son's uncle on his father's side," she said. "Trans. Began his process of transformation when he was in the Army. My son was a small child. And I remember on several occasions, and I'm a single mom, and occasionally when my son would go visit with his father, my son would come home and I'll never forget. One day he walked out of my room in my high heels, and he was wearing one of my dresses. And my mother and my grandmother opened up their eyes and I was like and I was like, me 'Whoa, my son. What are you doing?' And he goes, 'Oh, my uncle he does this.'"
She imitated the child's laughter and continued.
"He goes, 'I just can't get used to the high heels,' and I looked at him and I laughed. And he goes, 'So why does my uncle do that?'" she said. "And I was like, 'He likes to make believe.' You know, I didn't feel at that time that was the conversation that I needed to have with him because that's part they're growing up. That's part of that innocence.
"On several occasions, as my son started to get older, he started returning with tougher and tougher questions for me .... Not that I didn't understand. I'd always been surrounded by the LGBT community, always, and I would ask my other LGBT friends. And they would say, 'Hey, I haven't figured it out yet. Don't try to explain it to him. Just walk him through the process. But please tell the relative that's not a conversation for him to have with your son. It's your son.' I wholeheartedly feel that that responsibility belongs to the parents, and if the parents don't have that conversation, that it's bad on the parents. Now maybe we need to be having the conversation also about parenting."
The controversial bill prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools through third grade, and after that instruction must be "age-appropriate."
Garcia also shared misleading information about transitioning.
"As my son's trans uncle started transitioning out, he went through the whole process, the hormones, the implants, up until the point where he was going to completely go through the process and become a woman," she said, "and it stopped there."
"You know, a lot of people don't know that, I think the statistics are that four out of seven people who do the full transition end up committing suicide because it's tough. It's tough on the body ... and it's a tough process."
Many studies, however, show transgender individuals' mental health greatly improves after gender-affirmation surgery.
The state's "don't say gay" bill passed the Florida legislature Tuesday and is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis's desk for his signature.