A Florida House subcommittee approved a controversial bill Wednesday that aims to bar citizens from using single-sex public restrooms, dressing rooms, and showers that do not correspond with the gender listed on their legal identification, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Introduced by Republican Rep. Frank Artiles on February 4, House Bill 583 has drawn ire from many who claim the bill will unfairly target transgender Floridians, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Equality Florida, and numerous trans rights supporters nationwide.
Wednesday's vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee split 9-4 on party lines, with all Democrats on the committee opposing the advancement of HB 583. The bill now moves to the Government Operations Subcommittee and if approved will then move forward to the Judiciary Committee and then the full House.
If it became law, the legislation would subject any citizen "caught" using a single-sex public facility that did not match the gender listed on their legal identification to first-degree misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. The law would also make whoever owned an establishment where such "crimes" took place open to civil lawsuits from other patrons, for violating their "privacy" rights.
Artiles claims that HB 583 is intended to protect families, privacy, and public safety, notes The Tampa Tribune. He explained his argument in Wednesday's subcommittee meeting, drawing on an argument often decried by trans advocates as inflammatory and baseless: that trans people, especially trans women, are predatory and threaten the safety of others in public bathrooms, or that cisgender men would "claim" they were a trans woman to attack cisgender (nontrans) women and children.
Trans advocates, however, have drawn attention to the fact that trans people face serious safety issues in public that could be exacerbated by HB 583 — in particular, the fact that trans individuals are more likely than their cisgender peers to be harassed or physically attacked in public facilities.
This reality was brought to light by 45-year-old trans Floridian Cindy Sullivan, whose tearful speech has been quoted widely.
"I am Rep. Artiles' greatest fear," she told the crowd, according to the Tribune. "If I go to use the restroom, everybody in that restroom has the right to sue me. ... You all just don't get it. I'm so scared of you. You can put me in jail for being me."
"This bill is government intrusion at its worst," she continued. "I'm not a protected class. I'm a throwaway piece of trash in this country of freedom and liberty."
The ACLU of Florida echoed Sullivan's statements, encouraging those opposed to bill nationwide to sign an online petition, and adding that HB 583 could harm Florida businesses. "This bill makes harassment and discrimination [against trans Floridians] a government mandate, and it requires Florida business owners to play 'gender police,' having to humiliatingly investigate the gender of anyone seeking to use their facilities," said the group's public policy director, Michelle Richardson, in a statement. "Although the bill is aimed at transgender people, it will affect the public at large and business owners as well. Anyone perceived to be not feminine or masculine enough may be hassled and required to prove their gender to strangers; anyone who uses an empty different-sex restroom to avoid a long line could do jail time."
Similar legislation has emerged recently in Arizona, Utah, and Minnesota, and debates are ongoing in Texas and in Kentucky, where legislation last month passed the state Senate targeting trans students.