Following a two-hour hearing, a House panel cleared legislation on Tuesday that would ban Floridians from using single-sex restrooms if they do not match the sex listed on a person’s driver’s license or passport.
Passage of the bill would invalidate local gender identity and expression protections established in August 2013 with the Alachua County Human Rights Ordinance.
The bill, HB 583, was proposed by Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) in response to a Miami-Dade County ordinance intended to protect the transgender community. Artiles said the ordinance posed a risk by allowing men to enter women’s facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms.
The House Government Operations Subcommittee approved the bill on a 7-4 vote.
According to Anthony Verdugo, the executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, HB 583 is a crime prevention bill. It assures facilities designated for men and women remain distinct to prevent sexual invasiveness.
“For someone to complain and use a smokescreen of discrimination is really offensive,” Verdugo said. “No one should fear going to a public facility. It (HB 583) will remove the fear and restore their dignity as human beings to have their privacy respected.”
People who are transgender could ultimately be fined up to $1,000 with a one-year jail sentence for using a bathroom that does not match their assigned sex at birth. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the public policy specialist for Equality Florida said this discredits the gender with which they identify.
Equality Florida, a civil rights organization dedicated to securing equal opportunities for Florida’s LGBT community, led two days of lobbying against the bill in Tallahassee on March 16 and 17. Smith said activists chanted “trans lives matter” during protests held outside after the legislation was approved.
WUFT reached out to Rep. Artiles, but he declined to comment.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey’s most recent report found only 21 percent of transgender people who have transitioned have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender. The other 79 percent have either been able to update only certain records or none at all.
“The bill would have a devastating impact on transgender Floridians,” Smith said. “It would turn everyday trans folk into criminals. That is simply the reality.”
Since passing the subcommittee, the bill now has a greater possibility of becoming law. While a majority of Republicans are in support of the bill, Rep. Ken Roberson (R-Port Charlotte) was the only Republican to vote “no” on the bill.
Connor Corzine, secretary of the Alachua County Young Republicans, said the opinions regarding LGBT issues are often varied among older and younger Republicans.
“The Republican party is diverse on this (LGBT) issue,” Corzine said. “Being an active Republican my whole life, there is definitely a split between Libertarian and more traditional conservatives.”
Lucas DeMonte, a trans man from Gainesville, said the bill could ultimately affect the everyday lifestyle of transgender people who already feel uncomfortable using the restroom aligned with their genders.
DeMonte said medical transitions are often not economically feasible for many trans folk, which is why the transgender community has lobbied so extensively for the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the Alachua County Human Rights Ordinance.
“On a personal level, if this bill were to pass, my anxiety would be through the roof,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to even leave my house. All of my deepest and darkest fears would come true.”
Hiram Martinez-Cabrera, the Pride Awareness Month director at the University of Florida, said prompting an increase in online activism is the first step to promote lobbying among allies in the transgender community.
“Even though Alachua County isn’t huge, there is a certain level of solidarity among the queer community here,” Martinez-Cabrera said. “To maintain our ordinance, we have to mobilize and lobby in Tallahassee.”
Martinez-Cabrera said he believes it is imperative for LGBT constituents in Alachua County and their allies make their voices heard.
Promoting a safe and inviting environment for the local trans community is vital, according to Erica Merrell, co-owner of Wild Iris Books, “Florida’s only feminist and LGBTQ+ bookstore.”
Wild Iris Books, located in downtown Gainesville, has made an active effort to create a trans-inclusive space. Since launching a trans-affairs program at Wild Iris Books, Merrell has made sure to provide clothing, medical referrals to specialists who can help with their transition, general support and other trans resources.
Merrell said the recent events have left her outraged by the bill.
“This bill is putting people on this schedule of fear and punishment,” she said. “Systems of oppression like this work by stripping you of those things that really shape the quality of your day-to-day life.”