A second Florida House subcommittee approved a controversial bill Tuesdsay 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 Miami Herald.
Eleven days prior, House Bill 583, introduced February 4 by Republican Rep. Frank Artiles, passed its first hurdle, approved in a 9-4 vote by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. That first vote split on party lines, with all Democrats on the committee opposing the advancement of HB 583 — but Tuesday's vote in the House Government Operations Subcommittee drew, for the first time, a Republican opponent: Rep. Ken Roberson.
Roberson explained his decision by suggesting the bill — which has drawn increasingly critical national attention from trans rights advocates and their supporters — might have unintended consequences, notes the Herald. Despite his concerns and those voiced by all of the committee's Democrat members, HB 583 moved forward on a 7-4 vote. It will now advance to the Judiciary Committee and then to the full House.
If it became law, HB 583 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.
As introduced, the law would also make business owners liable to civil lawsuits wherever such "crimes" took place, though that provision was amended in Tuesday's committe hearing, according to the alternative weekly newspaper Miami New Times. Tuesday's committee hearing resulted in a change to the bill's definition of "sex" to now mean "a biological female [or male] or a person who has a valid driver license or United States passport that describes the person as female [or male] on the license or passport," according to the New Times.
Tuesday's hearing also resulted in the adoption of an amendment that would allow professional journalists to enter the locker room of an opposite-sex team for the purpose of interviewing athletes, notes the New Times.
Since introducing the bill, Artiles has repeatedly claimed that HB 583 is intended to protect privacy, public safety, and families, as well as to counter a December 2 ordinance protecting Miami-Dade County's transgender citizens that Artiles considers too broad. He has explained his reasoning to the House's subcommittees by drawing on an argument often decried by trans advocates as inflammatry and baseless: that trans people, especially trans women, are predatory and threaten the safety of others in public bathrooms, or that cisgender (nontrans) men would "claim" they were a trans woman to attack cisgender women and children.
Trans advocates, however, have drawn attention to the fact that trans people face serious safety issues in public that could exacerbated by HB 583 — in particular, the fact that trans individuals are more likely than their cisgender peers to be harassed or publicly attacked in public facilities. A viral social media campaign using the hashtag #WeJustNeedToPee has emerged from trans citizens in Canada and the U.S. drawing attention to the fact that trans people do not inherently pose a threat in bathrooms, but are simply present to use the facilities like everyone else.
Floridian trans rights supporters also voiced their concern's at Tuesday's subcommittee meeting, with some pointing out that the fearful "predator" specters that Republic lawmakers evoke have no basis in reality, reports Miami's local CBS station. "This kind of idea that somebody is going to be assaulted in the bathroom by someone, and claim they have the right to be there because they are trans, is imaginary," explained Ashley Flatter, a victim's advocate at the Alachua County Crisis Center. "It has never happened in my career professionally."
Laws similar to Florida's HB 583 have recently been proposed in Canada and Texas — with the latter state's legislation suggesting that bathroom users suspected of being in the wrong bathroom should have their gender somehow verified at the chromosomal level. Proposed legislation in Minnesota, Kentucky, and Texas also targets trans students, at times recommending that cisgender students receive financial compensation every time they can prove they shared a bathroom or locker room with a trans classmate.