With LGBTQ advocates decrying it as a “slate of hate,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a suite of bills that will prohibit or limit medical care for transgender people, prevent minors from attending drag shows and impose restrictions on which bathrooms trans people can use.
The bills targeting LGBTQ children and adults were at the top of DeSantis’ legislative wish list and dominated much of the 2023 legislative session that ended earlier this month.
“We receive this as it is intended, as an all-out attack on freedom,” Joe Saunders, political director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, told reporters on a hastily arranged conference call Wednesday.
One of the measures (SB 254) builds on rules adopted by the state’s medical boards that prohibit doctors from prescribing puberty blockers or hormones or using surgery to treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria and includes additional restrictions on treatment for trans adults.
The new law, which went into effect immediately, “will permanently outlaw the mutilation of minors,” DeSantis told an audience at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa.
Physicians could face third-degree felony charges for violating the prohibition on care for minors. The law includes an exemption for minors currently receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy. But it also would require state medical boards to create rules to establish standards of practice for physicians providing care to such minors.
While adults would be able to receive treatments, the law includes additional restrictions. For example, adults would have to sign consent forms that would be developed by the medical boards. Also, the bill would prevent the use of telehealth in providing treatment and would prohibit advanced nurse practitioners from prescribing hormone therapy, changes which patients say could severely curb access to treatment.
DeSantis, who appeared in Iowa over the weekend but has not formally entered the 2024 Republican race for president, also signed a bill (HB 1521) to require people to use the bathroom that lines up with their sex assigned at birth. The measure applies to the use of restrooms at public and private schools, as well as “public buildings” such as airports, state and local-government buildings, prisons and jails.
The proposal is aimed at “ensuring women’s safety,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “A woman should not be in a locker room having to worry about someone from the opposite sex being in their locker room.”
State Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who helped sponsor some of the legislation, praised the legislative package.
“There is evil in this world and we are fighting it here today,” said Fine, who joined DeSantis at the event.
But Jennifer Solomon, the mother of a transgender student, called the LGBTQ-focused measures “extremely scary.”
“We have families that are leaving the state because they cannot properly parent their child,” Solomon, the president of PFLAG Miami, said.
DeSantis is “literally taking away safety from our children,” she added.
“Gender-affirming care saves lives. We know that. I don’t want a politician to tell me what health care looks like for my family,” Solomon said. “I don’t want to leave the state … but unfortunately, if this continues, good families like mine are going to be forced to leave the state and that’s unacceptable.”
The governor on Wednesday also signed a measure (SB 1438) that seeks to block venues from admitting children to “adult live performances.” It defines “adult live performances” 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.”
The measure moved through the Legislature after DeSantis’ administration took steps such as filing a complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event in December.
The law, which also went into effect immediately, would allow state regulators to suspend or revoke licenses of restaurants, bars and other venues that violate the law. Businesses could face fines up to $10,000.
The new law also will prohibit local governments from issuing public permits for events that could expose children to the targeted behavior.
“This is sad that you kind of have to do this,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “People can do what they want with some of that, but to have minors there … where you have these like really explicit shows, that is just inappropriate.”
DeSantis also signed a measure aimed at expanding a 2022 law that barred instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The new bill would broaden the prohibition to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Teachers and other school employees would be prohibited from telling students their preferred pronouns and would be barred from asking students about their preferred pronouns. Supporters titled the 2022 law “Parental Rights in Education,” but opponents dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill.
Saunders, a former Democratic state representative, called the package of proposals passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by DeSantis the largest slate of anti-LGBTQ bills in the state’s history.
The breadth of the measures has spawned fear in the LGBTQ community at the same time it is galvanizing activists to push back against what many view as a revival of decades-old persecution of trans and gay people.
“These actions will fan the flames of hatred and bigotry and homophobia and transphobia in our state. Many in the community, I think, are really struggling to comprehend what it will mean but we know those impacts, those harms, will be real and, we fear, tragic,” Nathan Bruemmer, a transgender man who is the president of the LGBTQ Democratic Caucus, said.
Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith accused DeSantis and Florida GOP lawmakers of “trying to drag Florida backwards in a way that should be setting off alarm bells across the country.” Smith noted that her organization last month issued a travel advisory warning about the risks posed to people considering visiting or relocating to the state.
“This backlash will not stand. We are awake. We will make sure every family is respected and every child is protected. Florida is the frontline in this fight against fascism, and we are the resistance,” Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said.
The reach of the Florida proposals also drew rebukes from national LGBTQ-advocacy groups.
“DeSantis has made clear that demonizing LGBTQ+ people will be the center of his legislative agenda and presidential run. As a result, the rights of millions of Floridians are being rolled back by politicians who are attacking the LGBTQ+ community at a breakneck pace to pander to the most extreme fringes of their base,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement.
But DeSantis, the father of three young children, hailed the proposals he signed Wednesday as “an incredible package” of bills.
“I think this is something that we just made the decision as a state and me as governor to just say we’re protecting kids. We’re protecting kids. And we’re going to protect kids when it’s popular. We’ll protect kids, even when you take some incoming as a result of maybe offending some ideologies or some agendas out there, but that’s fine,” he said.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida