Florida’s legislative session started only this week, and Republican lawmakers have already introduced more bills targeting LGBTQ people than there have been days in the new year.
Some of the bills — including one that would change the state’s definition of sex and another that would criminalize “lewd or lascivious grooming” — are among the most extreme of the hundreds filed in state Legislatures so far this year. Another bill proposes prohibiting government employees from being required to use their colleagues’ requested pronouns and yet another aims to protect children from “harmful material” online, though harmful material is so vague that advocates worry it could include LGBTQ content.
Additionally a measure proposed by the Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur would declare nearly all published accusations of anti-LGBTQ bias to be “defamation per se.” The bill would bar journalists from defending such accusations by citing their subject’s “constitutionally protected religious expression or beliefs” or scientific beliefs, and those successfully sued would be liable for damages of at least $35,000.
“Florida has, for years, been an innovator of new assaults on freedom and equality, and this year’s slate of bills is no different,” said Brandon Wolf, a spokesperson for LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign who survived the Orlando, Florida, Pulse nightclub mass shooting. This session, we’ll see escalating attacks on education, medical freedom, and the fundamental right of transgender people to exist as their authentic selves.”
Among the most extreme bills is a sweeping measure, introduced by Republican Rep. Dean Black, that would require Floridians to sign an affidavit certifying that their driver’s license or other state ID reflects the sex listed on their original birth certificate. As a result, transgender Floridians would have to turn in any existing ID that shows their gender identity and would not be able to receive such identification in the future.
Black’s bill would also require any health insurance policy in the state that covers transition-related “prescriptions or procedures’’ to also cover “treatment to detransition” from such procedures. It would also require coverage of so-called conversion therapy by requiring health insurance policies to cover mental health services “to treat a person’s perception that his or her sex is inconsistent with the person’s sex at birth” by affirming their birth sex.
The bill would also require any school district or state agency “that collects vital statistics for the purpose of complying with anti-discrimination laws or for the purpose of gathering accurate public health, crime, economic, or other data” to identify the birth sex of people in the data set, potentially restricting data collection on trans people.
Black said the bill aims to answer “the defining question of this decade, ‘What is a woman?’”
“Indeed, this bill only serves to codify that which is already indisputable, but has sadly been weaponized by a radical political movement intent on rewriting the laws of nature to fit their own twisted agenda,” Black said in a news release.
Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Florida isn’t the first state to consider a measure that would prohibit trans people from having driver’s licenses that reflect their gender identity. Montana, North Dakota, Kansas and Tennessee have enacted similar laws, and the ACLU is currently suing over Kansas’ restriction. Two other states — Nebraska and Oklahoma — have enacted executive orders that similarly define sex in state law.
Branstetter said the bills are a “blatant effort” to contradict the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that federal employment law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion specifically stated that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“In short, these bills are meant to grant wide power to the state to define ‘transgender’ out of existence,” Branstetter said.
A novel bill filed by Republican Rep. Taylor Yarkosky makes “lewd or lascivious grooming” a criminal offense, which it defines as a person “preparing or encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity through overtly sexually themed communication with the child or in conduct with or observed by the child without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian.”
Though the bill doesn’t specifically name LGBTQ people, one of the bill’s Republican sponsors has been publicly critical of all ages-drag performances, and the term “grooming” has recently been adopted by some conservative officials to describe LGBTQ-inclusive school policies and drag events where children are present.
Florida’s slate of legislation continues a yearslong trend. Last year, Republican lawmakers in the state introduced 10 bills targeting LGBTQ people, with four becoming law, including a measure that expanded Florida’s Parental Rights in Education act, or what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis initially signed the law in March 2022, it prohibited “classroom instruction” on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The expanded measure, signed in May of last year, prohibits such classroom instruction from prekindergarten through eighth grade, restricts health education in sixth through 12th grade, and restricts what pronouns teachers and students can use. Since Florida passed the first version of the law, seven additional states have enacted similar measures restricting LGBTQ content in classrooms.
“Florida may be a laboratory for anti-LGBTQ+ hate, but it is not alone,” Wolf, the Human Rights Campaign advocate, said. “The bills emerging from the state are part of a national extremist network’s efforts to impose this agenda across the country.”
Conservative lawmakers filed a record number of bills targeting LGBTQ people last year, with more than 500 state bills filed across the country, according to the ACLU. Seventy-five of those bills became law, according to an NBC News analysis.
Last month, Branstetter said the ACLU has tracked 212 such bills so far for 2024.