Florida Senators target bathroom, drag show issues under controversial measures
Transgender men and women could be jailed for using bathrooms that don’t line up with their sex assigned at birth, and restaurants and other establishments could lose licenses for allowing children to attend raunchy drag shows, under controversial measures approved Thursday by a key Senate committee.
The bills are part of a series of moves by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature targeting transgender minors and adults through policies and proposals that mirror similar efforts in other GOP-led states.
One of the bills approved by the Senate Rules Committee is aimed at maintaining “public safety, decency and decorum” by requiring places including schools, health-care facilities and restaurants to provide restrooms and changing facilities “for the exclusive use by females or males.”
The measure (SB 1674) defines female as a “person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing eggs” and defines male as “a person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing sperm.”
The bill, which also would allow unisex bathrooms, would make it a second-degree misdemeanor for a person over age 18 to refuse to immediately leave a restroom “designated for the opposite sex” when “asked to do so by another person present in the restroom.” Penalties would be up to 60 days in jail or a fine of up to $500.
Opponents of the proposal warned it could have dangerous consequences for transgender people.
“I have one question for the females on this board, do you want me in the women’s restroom with you? Because if this bill passes, you’ll be requiring men like me to use the women’s restroom or face criminal punishment,” said Kaleb Hobson-Garcia, a transgender male with a full facial beard.
Hobson-Garcia, a 21-year-old Florida State University student, said the bill is “rooted in trans misogyny” and would put his safety at risk.
“What happens when husbands see me following their wives into the women’s restroom?” he asked.
Democratic senators — vastly outnumbered on the committee — also raised questions about parts of the bill they said were vague, such as how the restrictions would be policed.
“Some of the calls (from constituents) I got said, ‘Are you really instituting a potty police?’ Enforcement of it creates problems, and I think the enforcement needs to be clear,” Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said,
The proposal also would force Florida prisons to house inmates based on their sex assigned at birth, which could cause the state to lose federal funding, according to a staff analysis of the bill that identified numerous other issues.
Senate bill sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, defended the proposal but acknowledged it needs to be tweaked.
“At the end of the day, there are just places where we should be comfortable to do the business that needs to be done in those spaces and we need to figure out how to get that right,” she said before the committee’s 15-4 party-line vote in favor of the bill. “I want to make sure we get this right so that we don’t have individuals taking justice into their own hands because they think they know what the law is.”
The committee also approved a measure that would ban venues from admitting children to an “adult live performance,” which is defined 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 bill (SB 1438) would allow state regulators to immediately suspend or revoke licenses of restaurants, bars and other venues that violate the law.
The measure comes after the DeSantis administration filed a complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event in December, alleging minors were allowed to see the show. The complaint seeks to have the hotel’s liquor license revoked.
Senate sponsor Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, said the measure is designed to protect kids.
“Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, and government intervention should be a last resort. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to protect children from viewing lewd conduct that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in our communities,” Yarborough told the committee.
The bill sparked emotional debate and prompted committee member Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat who is gay, to walk out of the meeting before the vote.
Jones took issue with comments by John Labriola of the Christian Family Coalition, who told the committee the legislation is needed to protect children from “a very aggressive grooming agenda.”
“The fact that there even is a debate and there is another side that is so vehemently coming out against this kind of common-sense legislation … is further proof that there is a grooming agenda,” Labriola said.
But Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who was sexually abused as a child, called the discussion about grooming offensive.
“Let’s be really very clear about what grooming really is. It’s when a sexual predator builds a relationship with a child to abuse and exploit them” and build trust that is used “to control, isolate and abuse their victims emotionally, physically and sexually,” Book, D-Plantation, said. “Let’s talk about how many drag queens have been found to groom and sexually abuse children. … There are none.”
Jones also blasted the remarks about grooming.
“No drag queen molested me. Let me repeat that. No drag queen molested me. That happened in church. Not from a drag queen,” Jones said.
But Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, pushed back against what he characterized as an effort to “pick apart” the public’s testimony.
“That’s something the majority party has not done. Now we are spending time talking, debating a comment made by someone that testified and not the sponsor,” Broxson said.
The bill, which the committee approved along party lines, is now headed to the full Senate.
Also on Thursday, the House teed up a measure that would, in part, restrict the way that teachers and students can use preferred pronouns in schools.
The bill (HB 1069) would bar school employees from telling students their preferred pronouns if those pronouns “do not correspond to his or her sex” and prevent employees from asking students about their preferred pronouns. The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, argued the measure would be harmful to LGBTQ youths.
“I am concerned that we’re erasing what is a marginalized and small population of students who deserve to be seen and valued as who they are,” Eskamani said.
— News Service staff writer Ryan Dailey contributed to this report.