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'Thunderdome of Hate': Florida House Debates Slew of Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

'Thunderdome of Hate': Florida House Debates Slew of Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby and Rep. Angie Nixon

Lawmakers debated bills restricting drag, bathroom access, and gender-affirming care.

Maybe transgender people are like the X-Men.

That seemed a subtle suggestion by Florida Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat, during a day of debate on anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the Florida legislature. Nixon proposed an amendment to a drag show ban that would exempt adult live performances with performers dressed as X-Men.

“They were created as an ode to civil rights leaders that were being attacked, who wanted to fight for equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Nixon argued.

Florida Rep. Randy Fine, the Republican sponsoring the bill in question, said the amendment was “nor worthy” of debate, and a conservative majority in the Florida House shot it down.

But the moment was among the more flamboyant in a day of bills that out Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby labeled a “Thunderdome of Hate.”

Republicans now appear poised to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors, bar children from drag shows, and regulate where transgender people pee. And they are in posture to do all of it Wednesday — in a single day.

Sponsors of controversial bills labeled gender-confirmation surgeries as “cosmetic procedures,” proposed making trans people's use of certain restrooms a misdemeanor, and asserted certain non-nude dancing must not be allowed in public view.

Two of three anti-LGBTQ bills heard on the floor came from Fine, a Republican lawmaker who last year tried to shut down a drag queen story hour at Space Coast Pride.

He referenced that fight while presenting his bill that would threaten businesses with fines and license suspensions if they allow minors into adult live performances. While his bill doesn’t expressly identify drag shows, it targets anything with simulated nudity or sexual activity. He made reference to his fight against the city of Melbourne last year, when he objected to a Pride event that allowed minors to attend.

“There is evil in this world,” Fine said, “and we face it here today.”

Debate turned particularly caustic around the bill, informed in part by scrutiny of Fine’s family. Video surfaced last week of Fine’s wife engaged in a sultry performance during a charity event where children were present.

Davis’s amendment seemed to reference controversy around another bill discussed on the floor. During a committee hearing last week on bathroom restrictions, Florida Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican, labeled transgender people as “mutants.” He ironically cited the X-Men comics as well.

“When you watch the X-Men movies or Marvel Comics, it’s like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth,” he said, apparently unaware the superheroes were written by Stan Lee as a stand-in for oppressed minorities.

The bathroom bill would forbid individuals from using restrooms designated for a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. Florida Rep. Rachel Plakon, a Republican, said that bill was not exclusively targeting transgender people.

“I have several news articles where women have been assaulted in the restroom by biological male and follow them in,” she said.

That was a frequent refrain from Republican lawmakers about the bill, despite opposition by groups like Equality Florida and droves of transgender people who protested the bills in Tallahassee.

The most contentious debate Tuesday arguably surrounded a prohibition on gender-affirming care for minors, which also would restrict insurance coverage for procedures. Fine sponsored that bill along with Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Republican and physician.

Fine called gender-affirming procedures “cosmetic surgeries.” While he did not object to adults electing for such treatment, he did not want state insurance to cover it.

Massullo said multiple times in debate that the state should only recognize two genders, male and female, and said it should be treated as harmful to a child to allow them to either use medications like puberty blockers or to undergo permanent surgeries to affirm a gender different than the one assigned at birth.

The House version is notably more extreme than one under consideration in the Florida Senate. That one would allow patients under 18 who have already begun treatments for gender dysphoria to continue them, while the House bill only allows continued care if minors are detransitioning.

Rayner-Goolsby, the first Black lesbian elected to the Florida legislature, considered the string of bills an attempt at erasing LGBTQ+ people from existence — language Fine incidentally has fully embraced. The combined effects of, for example, denying an ability to change legal genders in the health care bill and barring the use of a bathroom associated with their gender identity in another, made for more discrimination.

“You're also stripping [trans people] of their legal right to be recognized as the identity they live in every day,” Rayner-Goolsby said.

She also took issue with the dismissive rhetoric used as bills advanced in the legislature.

“I would ask that as we are addressing this issue, if we could just be respectful in the way that we talk about transgender people,” Rayner-Goolsby said, “because I'm ready to let y'all have the chamber and just watch from my office.”

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