The Florida Senate Wednesday passed both an anti-transgender "bathroom bill" and an expansion of the state’s controversial “don’t say gay” law. The legislation could further impose an environment in which the state won’t let families admit transgender people exist, much less allow trans people a place to relieve themselves.
The bills advanced despite pleas from LGBTQ+ Floridians, including gay Sen. Shevrin Jones, to lay off the perpetual assault on the community. The Miami Democrat described how recent attacks from the far right now require him to bring security to public events.
“Imagine living in a state where you are the target of the political culture war," Jones said on the Senate floor.
“Imagine never touching a child inappropriately, but you are the victim of sexual abuse, but yet still, you are the one that's called a groomer. Imagine that. Imagine individuals who have been victims of sexual abuse, but yet still, it’s being turned back on you because of the tone which we have created in this in this state.”
He made those remarks about the education bill, which already passed the House.
The so-called expansion of parental rights, which extends a prohibition on curriculum about sexual orientation or gender identity through eighth grade, will now head to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk. DeSantis, who appears days ahead of launching a bid for president, will almost certainly sign the bill into law and further an already lengthy anti-LGBTQ+ record. Of note, Florida’s Board of Education already extended the ban through 12th grade in a move dubbed by critics as “don’t say gay until graduation.”
But in addition to writing an extended ban into state law, the legislation allows individuals to object to books in school libraries and provides work protection for teachers who refuse to recognize students or coworkers with pronouns besides those aligned with their birth certificate.
Republicans defended the legislation as protections of “common sense.” Sen. Clay Yarborough, a Republican sponsoring several anti-LGBTQ+ bills this year, rejected the notion the bills were harmful to LGBTQ+ children.
“Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean that I hate you. It just means I disagree with you,” Yarborough said, quoting Morgan Freeman. He said his bill will ensure pornography doesn’t remain on library shelve, and that parents ultimately determine when controversial subjects around sex and gender are introduced to children.
"We can maintain an appropriate learning environment for all students and teachers,” Yarborough said. “Teachers should be able to spend their time focusing on skills that help a child succeed in life, not delving into every social issue."
The Senate also passed a bill requiring separate men’s and women’s restrooms, with a unisex restroom optional, along with requirements citizens only use bathrooms aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth.
The House had passed a bill that would go a step farther and place the same restraints on private commercial property. But the Senate passed a softened version that places the imposition only on government facilities, including parks, prisons, and schools. The House then took up the Senate language Wednesday and passed it on an 80-36 vote.
That means both bills are headed to DeSantis’s desk.
Sen. Erin Grall, the Republican sponsor, made clear the bill impacts even those transgender people who have fully transitioned through gender-affirmation surgery. The bill ultimately would leave it to facility authorities to enforce laws, and individuals would only be criminally liable if they refuse to leave after being asked to by security or authorities there.
“This is really about using the facilities with the sex with which you were born,” Grall said during discussion of the bill on Tuesday. “That is the purpose of the bill, not to talk about the specific acts that could happen.”
LGBTQ+ allies in the Senate decried the bill both as an act of hate and a waste of time ignoring serious problems in Florida.
“Clearly, the bill is designed to just hurt trans people and not to protect anyone,” Sen. Tina Polsky said, “because there’s nothing inherently dangerous about a trans person using a bathroom.”
Sen. Victor Torres, whose granddaughter is transgender, feared the bill will lead to vigilante justice whether it applies only in government buildings or throughout society.
“Somebody out there is going to take that into his or her own hands into stopping somebody who's transgender from using a bathroom,” he said. “You know my granddaughter's transgender. She's very quiet, very reserved, a loving person, but I feel that she feels threatened out there. These type of bills always, always affect the child and what they want to do, where they want to go.”
He also alluded to ongoing struggles for Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender lawmaker being silenced now for speaking up for trans rights.
“When you have a transgender elected official, how would that official interact and work here and use the facilities that are here?” Torres said. “I can’t support this bill.”
LGBTQ+ advocates expressed alarm at the amount of hateful bills coming from Florida, seemingly in service of DeSantis’s presidential ambitions.
“Any one of these bills would have shut down the economy of another state,” said Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida.