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- A slate of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in Florida this month.
- If passed, the bills would restrict access to gender-affirming care and classify it as child abuse.
- Experts told Insider the bills are posturing ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
A series of new bills in Florida taking aim at health care providers offering gender-affirming care and parents who support their trans kids are part of a targeted attack against gender nonconforming people in the state, legal and mental health experts told Insider, with the aim to “erase them from public life entirely.”
In addition to a proposed Florida House bill that would prohibit a person’s sex from being changed on their birth certificate and make gender-affirming care for minors illegal, GOP legislators in the state of Florida also proposed bills this month that would:
- Allow the state to modify child custody agreements if a parent supports their trans child in transitioning and classify providing gender-affirming care as child abuse
- Makes it a misdemeanor for a trans person to enter a bathroom that does not align with their sex assigned at birth
- Expand the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill to include charter schools and prohibit instruction on gender identity and sexuality through the 8th grade
“Florida Republicans are methodically pushing policies that encourage transgender people and their families to flee the state or erase them from public life,” Carlos Guillermo Smith, a special project manager for Equality Florida and a former representative in the Florida House, told Insider. “It’s government-imposed gender conformity, and if it isn’t stopped, it will not end here.”
Smith, the first openly LGBTQ Latino lawmaker in the state, said the anti-trans legislation in Florida has escalated quickly in recent years after a bill was introduced in 2021 that banned trans kids from participating in school sports, which lawmakers claimed was over concern about fairness.
“That has quickly escalated to now, where we have this frightening plan to criminalize and imprison parents who help their own children access gender-affirming care, which is to tell you that it was never about women’s sports,” Smith told Insider. “This is Republicans, empowered by Ron DeSantis, methodically pushing policies to push trans people out of the state of Florida or erase them from public life entirely.”
Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
New legislation ‘short circuits existing law’
The proposed new bills go further to expand anti-trans legislation than others across the nation, disrupting established custody and health care precedent, legal experts told Insider.
Brett Ward, co-chair of the top 100 law firm Blank Rome’s Matrimonial and Family Law Practice Group, told Insider that Florida state Senator Clay Yarborough’s proposed bill, SB 254, which would allow disapproving parents to take “emergency jurisdiction” over their children if the minor receives or is “at risk of” receiving gender-affirming care, is unprecedented in how it interferes with parental rights.
“It’s really concerning not just from a moral perspective, which is not my area of expertise, but from a family law perspective,” Ward said. “Other than the anti-trans messaging that goes along with this bill, you have the state interfering with the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care of their children, which is a Supreme Court-recognized due process right. This is an absolute trampling on that right and also, in my opinion, a trampling on the sovereignty of other states.”
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and former staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Insider that Yarborough’s bill “short circuits existing law and completely blows it up” by incentivizing state-sponsored kidnapping.
Representatives for Yarborough told Insider the bill was proposed to protect Florida youth from “life-altering gender dysphoria therapies” and gender-affirming surgeries that are “mutilating young children.”
After Insider’s initial reporting on SB 254, Yarborough amended the bill language to include a provision that the court is authorized to act “only to the extent necessary.”
A Reuters investigation found that, as of 2021, fewer than 1,500 youth in the United States under the age of 17 were taking physician-prescribed puberty blockers, and fewer than 4,500 on hormone therapies. Less than 300 received mastectomies or “top surgery,” and only 56 youth under the age of 17 have received gender-affirming “bottom” or genital surgery.
Representatives for Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, who proposed HB 1421, a bill that would restrict gender-affirming health care in the state, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“I think that’s important, just to note how brazen the language has become — it’s genocidal rhetoric,” Caraballo told Insider. “I mean, when you’re talking about eradicating something like that, that’s genocidal.”
She added: “For a long time trans people have been called alarmist because we’ve been seeing this bubble up from the swamps of the internet, but it’s becoming more and more vocal, and it’s being backed by legislation. And I think that’s one other aspect to this, just how much of this is being driven by a pure drive to eliminate trans people from public life.”
Driven by political aspirations
Advocates, legal scholars, and mental health professionals each told Insider the push for the latest anti-trans measures in the state of Florida appears to be driven by Gov. Ron DeSantis’s apparent White House aspirations.
“This is all about politics, and this is all about bolstering DeSantis is run for the presidency,” Caraballo told Insider. “I think what you’re seeing is essentially a race to the bottom in terms of the sheer level of depravity and animus and hatred that they can exhibit and just plain cruelty that they can exhibit towards trans people. And DeSantis has every incentive to participate and demonstrate in that cruelty.”
As part of that “race to the bottom,” proving a track record of legislating transgender issues has become a galvanizing issue among Republican lawmakers, which both Caraballo and Ward said can be used to score easy “points” among voters who are critical of transgender people.
“It’s a popular opinion, unfortunately, that people who get gender-affirming health care are wrong, the children who get it are wrong,” Ward told Insider. “It is the state, the government, coming into the privacy of the home and invading it — which is very, very inconsistent with their positions on other issues, such as if someone has a gun in the home. That attack is extremely unfortunate, and discriminatory, and in my opinion morally wrong, and they’re attacking it from every angle.”
As a result of the widespread attempts to legislate gender issues, Ward said, industries from health care to academia are navigating new legal territory, facing potential liability issues if they run afoul of the new laws.
“So there’s a chilling effect on the medical community, there’s a chilling effect on the educational community, about openly talking about it,” Ward said. “And now they’re trying to tell parents ‘don’t you dare go in this direction and support your children’s actual identity because the legal community and the government will come down on you.’ It’s a comprehensive attack on the trans community.”
An untold impact on Florida’s trans youth
Caught in the middle of the attempts to legislate health care, custody agreements, and education related to trans people, are gender non-conforming youth in the state, advocates told Insider.
“Research has consistently found that when transgender young people feel supported by their parents and families, their odds of suicide risk can lower significantly,” Casey Pick, director of law and policy at The Trevor Project, said in a statement to Insider. “This call to take trans youth away from vital parental support — especially as 54% of trans and nonbinary youth in Florida seriously considered suicide in the past year — is the latest in a series of egregious efforts by anti-trans politicians to marginalize trans young people even further.”
Christian Jorbal, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in LGBTQ health told Insider that, in addition to the practical realities of these proposed bills making life more challenging for trans youth, watching the political process where individual rights are under attack can be particularly troubling for kids in the state.
“Ultimately, this legislation is particularly difficult and challenging for children and adolescents,” Jorbal told Insider. “And I say that because as adults, who may be sort of transgender or specifically gender diverse, on one level, we have more resources, more money, more physical access to resources, for example, to be able to connect with others who may identify with or to even participate, for example, in political protests — there are ways in which we can we can exercise our sense of agency.”
In adolescence, Jorbal said, it’s much more difficult to feel a sense of control over one’s future, and for a trans kid watching their rights get legislated away without being able to vote or participate in the political process, that can be particularly disheartening.
“They don’t have money. They don’t necessarily have the ability to access resources unless their parents are specifically supporting them and really sort of directing them through the process,” Jorbal said. “They don’t necessarily have the resources to be able to connect with others with whom they can identify, and they don’t have the ability to engage in things that help them to feel a sense of agency. There’s a lot of powerlessness in childhood and adolescence, and so it makes them pretty vulnerable.”