Students protesting on the 5th floor of the Florida Capitol Building. Mar. 3, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
It’s been almost two weeks since two Florida Republicans filed a bill that would make it a crime for doctors to provide treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers to transgender minors.
But by Monday, more than 100 people rallied to advocate for the “life-saving” care for transgender minors and some adults — in opposition to SB 254. There were tears and a melting pot of emotion. Many people said they drove hundreds of miles to speak before the committee.
A vote of 8-3 lawmakers passed what’s called a “proposed committee substitute,” or PCS, which was heard that afternoon in a Senate Health Policy meeting.
Sen. Tracie Davis, a Democrat who represents part of Duval County and Democratic Party Leader Sen. Lauren Book, who represents part of Broward County proposed a total of four amendments to the bill — all of which failed.
Thirty seconds to tell their truth
“My intent is to give everybody who has filled out a card an opportunity to speak,” said Health Policy Chair Colleen Burton, who represents part of Polk County. “There will be those in favor of the bill and those opposed to the bill. You have been amazingly quiet and patient, and we’re gonna keep being amazingly quiet and patient through the rest of this.”
However, Burton would limit appearances to 30 seconds of testimony, as a roar of disbelief filled the room.
And later, Burton provided frequent reminders to the audience to remain respectful and in some circumstances, Burton warned the crowd that people could be removed from the room for clapping or other outbursts.
“I would like you to know that we brought children here that came six hours and you gave them 30 seconds to speak — that’s embarrassing,” an advocate with the Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida said. “If our child is being strangled by society’s expectations, should we not remove the noose? Calling supportive parents abusive is like watching a person douse a fire and then complaining about the puddles. We’re saving lives and you are taking lives. You should all be ashamed that we are even having this conversation. Nonetheless, that you’re letting children advocate for their lives for 30 seconds. They’re worth more than 30 seconds of your time. I’m ashamed of you. Everyone in this room is ashamed of you. And you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
WVSWFL is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending human rights and reproductive freedoms, according to its webpage.
Those in opposition displayed t-shirts and photos of lost loved ones as they shouted, cried and plead to the lawmakers. The group of trans advocates, war veterans, parents and practicing medical professionals challenged the GOP’s claims of “experimental” gender-affirming care. The advocates accused the DeSantis administration of genocide and targeting the trans community.
Nathan Brewer, a lawyer, parent and transgender man who testified to Sen. Book’s amendment on telehealth, made a second plea to the lawmakers.
“Senators, you clearly hear the passion in the hearts of the folks in front of you. I would like to appeal to the spirit of compromise that is what this country was founded on, especially as a former public official. I would like to revisit the conversation on telehealth. If open to that, senator, I’d like to be available to discuss some of those things. Please, there are things here that are hard, but there are some things that I think that a little bit of conversation and education we can do — some of the things, that make this a little bit easier because this is gonna be remarkably hard for Floridians.”
In support of the bill — or not
Nonetheless, those in support of the legislation deemed it a “good bill.”
Legislative affairs director for the Florida Family Policy Council, Aaron DiPietro, advised the pro-life organization’s support of the legislation.
“Every child deserves a natural childhood, one that allows them to experience puberty and other natural changes that will shape as they come,” DiPietro said. “Children should not be pushed to receive experimental treatments that can lead to permanently sterile and scarred for life… We encourage you to support this bill in order to protect the children of the state of Florida.”
The committee’s three Democrats, Sen. Davis, Sen. Book and Sen. Rosalind Osgood, who represents part of Broward County, offered debate in opposition.
“I know we all have said a lot, heard a lot today, so I’m just going to repeat some of the things I think bear repeating. We’ve heard that this bill restricts access to gender-affirming care. We’ve heard that it creates a potential for depression. Some have suicidal thoughts… suicide attempts,” Davis said at the meeting. “The target is on the back of the queer community. Treatment of gender-affirming care is not experimental or transphobic… extreme overreach by the government and the side effect to not having this care is suicide. And so those are the words that speaker after speaker after speaker said and all I could hear was, ‘love me as I am,'” as she began to cry. “Love me as I am. Words hold an incredible amount of power, and that’s something that I think this legislature should remember.”
Sen. Davis said she feels the legislation is unconstitutional and has vilified the trans community.
What Yarborough said
Sen. Clay Yarborough, who filed the bill, thanked the speakers and affirmed that their lives do have value. (He is not a member of the health policy committee.)
“I believe we need to let kids be kids,” Yarborough, a Republican who represents Nassau County and part of Duval County, concluded. “And our laws need to set appropriate boundaries that respect the rights and responsibilities of parents while protecting children from the very serious health and safety concerns associated with these treatments.”
The crowd of hundreds was immediately ushered out of the subcommittee meeting room. They marched out with fists-raised singing “Lean on Me,” and gathered in the halls to console one another.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida issued a Tuesday statement in opposition of the bill, and its companion bill, HB 1421.
“This dangerous bill is an extraordinary governmental overreach, even among efforts to ban gender-affirming care,” ACLU political director, Kirk Bailey, said. “It will drastically threaten the lives of trans children either living in or visiting Florida.”
“SB 254 infringes upon constitutionally protected parent-child relationships and also grossly undermines the rights of parents to provide medical treatment for their minor children in accordance with their doctors’ recommendations. This bill bans care for a serious medical condition, gender dysphoria, recognized by every major medical organization, but allows the exact same care for other diagnoses. Medical providers will be deterred from our state due to the threat of civil action, imprisonment, and the loss of their medical license.”
“This course of action is cruel and dangerous… Transgender people have the right to the same health care access afforded to their peers. No one should be prohibited from accessing the care they need,” Bailey said.
The House bill
House Health & Human Services Chairman Rep. Randy Fine, who represents Brevard County, and Rep. Ralph Massullo, who represents Citrus and Marion County are also targeting gender-affirming care under the title “gender clinical intervention” with HB 1421.
The House bill will also prohibit “certain persons and entities from expending funds for reimbursement for specified clinical interventions.”
The proposal bars health insurance policies from providing coverage of said interventions, and “certain persons and entities” from expending funds for reimbursement for “specified clinical interventions.” HMOs will also be banned from including coverage for gender clinical interventions – providing an effective date.
Providing liability and penalties, the bill authorizes “certain persons” to refuse to participate in gender clinical interventions. This includes, but is not limited to, hospital and physician staff and employees.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.