Florida Republicans submit 4 anti-gay bills on last day to file

The bills would repeal LGBTQ antidiscrimination ordinances, criminalize trans health care for minors and allow conversion therapy in places that had banned it.
Image: old and new Florida state capitols
A view of the historic Old Florida State Capitol building, which sits in front of the current New Capitol, in Tallahassee, Florida on Nov. 10, 2018.Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images file
By Tim Fitzsimons

Seven Republican lawmakers in Florida filed anti-LGBTQ bills late Monday, just hours before the deadline to file new bills for the coming legislative session.

If passed, the bills would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender children, repeal municipal and county ordinances protecting LGBTQ workers, and legalize so-called gay conversion therapy in places that had banned the medically debunked practice.

The state lawmakers — Rep. Anthony Sabatini, Sen. Dennis Baxley, Rep. Bob Rommel, Sen. Joe Gruters, Rep Michael Grant, Sen. Keith Perry, and Rep. Byron Donalds — together introduced the four pieces of legislation, each with a companion bill in the House and the Senate.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, one of Florida’s openly LGBTQ lawmakers, said in a statement that it is “shameful that Republican lawmakers are wasting tax dollars attacking Florida's most vulnerable communities rather than prioritizing the issues that impact everyday people's lives.”

“Clearly they've decided that discrimination and hate are central to their election-year platform despite our state's incredible diversity,” Jones wrote. “Just as I've done since I was elected in 2012, I will continue to fight any legislation that marginalizes or threatens any Floridian's shot at a secure, safe, and bright quality of life."

Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group, also decried the late-session bill dump.

“This is the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida Legislature in recent memory,” Jon Harris Maurer, the group’s public policy director, said in a press release. “It runs the gamut from openly hostile legislation that would arrest and imprison doctors for providing medically necessary care, to legislation that would carelessly erase critical local LGBTQ protections.”

Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality, called out the proposed trans health bill, saying, “Transgender youth are some of the most at risk in our community.”

“It is outrageous that conservative legislators would threaten their health and safety,” she said in a statement. “Medical professionals, not politicians, should decide what medical care is in the best interest of a patient. Forcing a doctor to deny best practice medical care and deny support to transgender youth can be life-threatening.”

NBC News reached out to the legislators behind the bills but did not receive any responses before press time. After initial publication, however, Sen. Gruters responded saying his Senate bill — unlike its companion in the House — "includes protections" in the preamble by stating that “nothing in this act is intended to alter” local policies prohibiting employment discrimination.

"The bill certainly does not authorize an employer to discriminate against employees who are members of protected classes, whether protected by federal or state law or local ordinance," Sen. Gruters told NBC News in an email. “While I do not believe the bill has any impact on local anti-discrimination ordinances, in an abundance of caution, I included language in the bill’s preamble to make clear that the preemption would not affect local anti-discrimination laws, and any court would interpret the preemption consistent with that preamble."

However, Joe Saunders, Equality Florida's senior political director, said the preamble is just the bill's introduction and is not considered part of the law.

“We appreciate that Sen. Gruters put that in,” Saunders said, but “it’s not policy; it’s not considered part of the bill.”

Conservative Republicans across the country have lately moved to introduce bills that would criminalize the provision of medical care for transgender children — including treatments endorsed by all major medical organizations. Florida’s trans health care ban proposal joins a list of similar bills that have been filed in recent weeks by staunchly conservative lawmakers in Tennessee and Texas.

“Sadly, the medical care of transgender youth has been sensationalized and politicized,” Jack Turban, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, said. “Gender-affirming medical care for transgender adolescents is endorsed by major medical organizations, including the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. It should go without saying, but providing standard medical care should not be a felony.”

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