Advocates for equal rights in Florida on Wednesday blasted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in the state legislature for signing into law four bills that advocates have characterized as a “slate of hate” targeting LGBTQ Floridians.
“Governor Ron DeSantis has just signed into law the largest slate of anti-LGBTQ bills in Florida’s history,” said Joe Saunders, senior political director of Equality Florida, on a press call, describing the new laws as “an attack on freedom.”
“Free states don’t strip parents of the right to make healthcare decisions for their children,” said Saunders, who recently launched a campaign for the Florida Senate. “Free States don’t ban books. They don’t censor curriculum, and they don’t muzzle free speech.”
DeSantis approved four bills at a signing ceremony Wednesday morning that are widely perceived as attempts to undercut LGBTQ rights and further alienate transgender Floridians, marketed by Republicans as policies to “protect children.”
One sweeping bill (HB 1069) prohibits teachers from using a student’s preferred pronouns, even at their parents’ request. It also makes it easier for books to be removed from public schools on the basis of being inappropriate for school children, and expands Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law.
That 2022 law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, prohibited classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through 3rd grade. The new law expands that from pre-K through 8th grade. Separately, a new rule adopted by the Florida Board of Education further extends this prohibition through 12th grade, although that rule is not codified into law.
Another bill (SB 1438) threatens to pull the liquor license of any establishment that hosts “adult live performances” with minors under the age of 18 present.
The term “adult live performances” is widely perceived as targeting drag (similar to other policy proposals across the country), defined within the bill language as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience and in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”
Bills banning gender-affirming care for Florida minors and prohibiting transgender people from using bathrooms in public facilities that don’t correspond with their gender assigned at birth were also signed into law Wednesday, as part of what DeSantis described as a “Let Kids Be Kids” package.
Republican politicians, including DeSantis, have described gender-affirming care as “mutilation,” despite the fact that it’s endorsed by every major medical association as appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria. The new bill signed into law codifies an existing ban on gender-affirming care for youth that was already adopted by Florida medical boards, outlines penalties for violations of the ban, and restricts access to care for transgender adults.
“Many in the community, I think, are really struggling to comprehend what it will mean,” said Nathan Bruemmer, president of the Florida LGBTQ Democratic Caucus, in response to the GOP’s targeted attacks on LGBTQ rights. “But we know those impacts, those harms will be real, and I think we fear, ultimately tragic.”
Jen Cousins, an Orlando mom of four who’s been at the center of the fight against book bans in Florida, as co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, shared concerns about how easing the process of removing books from schools, and how that will affect the diversity of learning materials available for school-aged children.
“This bill is now going to allow any person who lives in any district, whether or not they have children, to challenge books that are in the school district,” said Cousins. “We know that the main target of these challenges are books that are either written by LGBTQ+ authors or feature LGBTQ+ themes,” she said. “They also go after books about people of color, about African American history.”
Popular Information reported last week that several of the books pulled from the shelves in Florida school districts for being “pornographic” are actually anything but, and more importantly, don’t meet the state’s legal definition of “harmful” content illegal to distribute to minors.
Those titles include Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Forever by Judy Blume.
In Orange County, four books have been removed districtwide: This Book Is Gay, Gender Queer, Let’s Talk About It and Perfectly Normal.
Jen Solomon, a mother from South Florida and president of PFLAG South Miami, said these bills are not about “protecting children,” as Republicans say, and are instead about a political agenda.
“This is extremely scary,” said Solomon. “We have families that are leaving the state because they cannot properly parent their child, whether it’s in the school system in the medical community. We are not allowing parents to make choices, simple choices for their children.”
Educators in Orange County and beyond have also struggled with new policies that have rolled out in Florida over the last two years, according to Clinton McCracken, president of the Orange County teachers’ union. Many teachers, including those who identify as LGBTQ themselves, have self-censored, McCracken told Orlando Weekly, fearful of being targeted by conservative groups like Moms for Liberty or being labeled “indoctrinators.”
Florida Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican who sponsored several of the bills signed into law on Wednesday, made it clear at DeSantis’ bill signing ceremony, held at a private school in Tampa, that he perceives the LGBTQ community as a threat.
“The important thing for people to know is there is evil in this world and we are fighting it,” Fine declared.
The Wednesday signing ceremony fell on May 17, a day that over 100 countries worldwide observe as International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.
In 2022, President Joe Biden released a statement commemorating IDAHBA, acknowledging “disturbing setbacks and rising hate and violence targeting LGBTQI+ people in the United States” and adding that legislative policies targeting LGBTQ people “cannot be tolerated.”
The United Nations has also denounced attacks on the LGBTQ community, not just in the United States but globally. “I renew my call to all Member States to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and end the criminalization of consensual same-sex relations and transgender people,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “Being yourself should never be a crime.”
PEN America, a nonprofit organization, has filed a lawsuit against book bans that have already occurred in Escambia County, Florida, joined by publisher Penguin Random House, students of Escambia County, and authors as plaintiffs.
A lawsuit against the state for the Florida Board of Medicine’s ban on gender-affirming care for youth and prohibition on Medicaid coverage for all trans healthcare services is ongoing.
Undocumented immigrants, educators and other public employees have also faced targeted attacks by Florida’s GOP this year, while Floridians continue to grapple with unaffordable housing, inflation and skyrocketing home insurance premiums, which apparently haven’t been designated as issues to be addressed in order to “protect the children.”
Locally, a Central Florida Emergency Trans Healthcare Fund has been set up by the LGBT+ Center Orlando and the Contigo Fund to help trans individuals and families access gender-affirming care.
“This is an amazing tapestry of a state, and what has come forward does not represent what is the best of Florida,” said Bruemmer, a transgender man and practicing attorney. “Ultimately, unified in action, I know our community will come back.”
“What we need to do,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former State House Representative and candidate for Florida Senate, “is carry on.”
This is a developing story.
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