Members of the grassroots coalition Gators for Gender Affirming Care didn’t expect to meet a city leader who could put their efforts to action as they were passing out flyers to advocate for transgender healthcare access on the University of Florida campus recently.
Gainesville City Commissioner and UF alumna Reina Saco was visiting Library West when she was approached by the group at UF’s Plaza of the Americas in February. Instead of dismissing them, she listened.
“It’s actually a really interesting story about giving people five seconds of courtesy,” Saco said.
Inspired by the coalition’s mission, Saco said she decided to use her resources as a city official to collaborate with the coalition and write a non-binding resolution supporting gender-affirming care. The Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously to pass that resolution on June 15.
“It shows individuals here in Gainesville and across the state that not everyone thinks like the people in Tallahassee,” she said. “There is a community here in Gainesville that does consider the LGBTQIA community to be deserving of respect and health care.”
While the non-binding resolution does not carry the weight of law, the written statement serves as an outlet for the city commission to show solidarity with Florida’s LGBTQ community, Saco said.
“The City of Gainesville takes the position that the state has no right to control the medical needs of consenting adults and their medical providers,” according to the resolution written by Saco and Gators for Gender Affirming Care.
A slew of legislation and restrictions concerning gender-affirming care has overwhelmed Florida’s transgender population over the last few years. In August 2022, Florida Medicaid stopped covering gender-affirming care. The Florida Board of Medicine banned treatments, including hormone therapy and surgical procedures for minors in November 2022.
Most recently, Senate Bill 254, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, criminalizes medical providers prescribing gender-affirming care to minors and bars medical practitioners other than physicians from prescribing the care to adults.
Chelsea Novak, a 21-year-old member of Gators for Gender Affirming Care, worked with Saco to put forth the resolution and attended the meeting when the resolution was passed. Passing the resolution would be a small but meaningful gesture in the fight against legislation, like SB 254, that harms LGBTQ individuals, she said.
“The result of this legislation is to restrict access to gender-affirming medical care for trans people, instill fear among trans adults, bully queer children and threaten medical practitioners with legal sanction if they follow their codes to help their patients,” she said.
On June 6, a federal judge ruled in favor of gender-affirming care. Judge Robert Hinkle temporarily blocked the provisions of SB 254 that ban transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care, like puberty blockers.
At the June 15 City Commission meeting, Saco and other commissioners voiced their support for the LGBTQ community before passing the resolution.
“I’m very thankful that Commissioner Saco brought this forward so that we can support our transgender community and continue to show that Gainesville is a place where people can feel safe,” City Commissioner Bryan Eastman, who has a transgender sibling, said at the meeting.
City Commissioner Casey Willits, who is gay, said he appreciated Saco’s efforts and encourages allies to fight beside their transgender community members.
“My community — they stand united but there’s only so long they can stand without help from the rest of us,” said Willits.
Willits also described legislation, like SB 254, as “calls to violence” against the LGBTQ community in how the laws frame LGBTQ people as dangerous and a threat to society.
Outside commissioners, a small group of people, including LGBTQ individuals and allies from Gainesville and other surrounding areas of North Central Florida, packed the City Hall auditorium to witness city commissioners pass the resolution. Meeting attendees also shared their thoughts on the resolution during public comment.
In her public comments, Novak explained recently enacted legislation like SB 254 and House Bill 521, which criminalizes transgender individuals for not using the bathroom aligned with their sex assigned at birth.
While Novak said she is horrified by these laws, she said she is not surprised by their enactment.
“These bills are simply links in a long tragic chain of Gov. DeSantis using queer and trans adults and kids to further his extreme agenda and national political ambitions,” she said.
Novak urged commissioners to pass the resolution to assure locals that Gainesville will remain a safe space for the LGBTQ community.
“Trans people are your neighbors, your teachers, your colleagues, your friends, your family,” she said. “We are your community, and right now your community is under attack.”
Kai Christmas, a regional organizer for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, is a lifelong resident of Gainesville and identifies as transgender. Gainesville has always felt like a supportive community for LGBTQ individuals, and Christmas said they want that to continue.
“I’d love to see Gainesville take a stance on this,” Christmas said concerning the discussed state legislation.
Brandi Rodrigues, a 45-year-old resident of Sumter County, has a transgender husband. She traveled to Gainesville to attend Thursday’s meeting after learning of the resolution, she said.
Holding back tears, she spoke about how the couple plans to move out of Florida due to her fears surrounding her husband’s ability to continue receiving gender-affirming care.
“[DeSantis is] ripping people’s lives apart,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to move out of Florida to make my husband safe.”
After the commissioners passed the resolution, Saco motioned for the city to send the written statement to Gov. DeSantis’ office, various state representatives, the Florida Board of Medicine and several municipalities across Florida. The motion passed unanimously.
Saco said she was surprised and thrilled with the number of people from surrounding communities who attended the meeting for the reading of the resolution.
“It demonstrates what I hoped it would — that kindness is open inspiration to others,” Saco said.