State Rep. Webster Barnaby. Credit: FL House of Representatives.
Lawmakers in the Florida Senate were set to discuss attacks on drag shows and other performances on Tuesday, but several senators decided to talk about what happened Monday, when a House member went on a tirade against transgender Floridians.
“I want to acknowledge that that type of vitriol, it’s coming because that is the type of climate that has been created in this country. That is the type of climate that we are creating in this state, to where we are basically giving people a hall pass to say crazy things like that,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County.
“That what happened yesterday is dangerous,” Jones added. “That what happened yesterday should not happen in a body of leaders who sit and walk inside this chamber, who represent 22 million people.”
Democrats called out Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican who represents part of Volusia County, during a full Senate meeting Tuesday about his comments from the day before.
Barnaby referred to the LGBTQ+ community, as “demons,” “imps” and “mutants,” the Phoenix previously reported, in reference to legislation that would bar transgender adults who intentionally enter a restroom or changing facility differs from their sex assigned at birth.
Barnaby also said:
“So much evil in our world today. And so many people who are afraid to address the evil, the dysphoria, the disfunction. I’m not afraid to address the dysphoria or the disfunction,” Barnaby said Monday. “The Lord rebuke you Satan, and all of your demons and all of your imps who come parade before us.
“That’s right, I called you demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world.”
Barnaby has offered a simple apology, according to NBC News:
“I would like to apologize to the trans community for referring to you as demons,” he said.
Sen. Tina Polsky said the legislation about drag shows, as well as Barnaby’s comments from Monday, feed into “dangerous rhetoric” that “leads to violence” against the LGBTQ+ community.
“The bill is, as usual, so purposefully vague as to create an administrative nightmare and seeks to chill all of those shows,” Polsky argued.
“But I guess that is the cruel point, and this rhetoric can directly lead to violence as we have seen, and lead to a state representative, across the forum here, calling transgender people ‘demons’ and ‘mutants,’ and invoking the Bible as he does it,” she continued.
“This bill feeds into that kind of dangerous rhetoric and it will lead to violence,” Polsky said.
Sen. Rosalind Osgood, a Democrat from Broward County, who said she initially planned to vote in favor of the legislation on drag shows, told senators that Barnaby’s comments about transgender people changed her mind and she voted against the legislation.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Clay Yarborough, did not explicitly condemn Barnaby’s comments, but he did say that “name-calling” is not Christ-like.
“The violence and the name calling is not acceptable and I condemn that. And that is not a Christ-like response and I’m totally proud and fine with saying that on the record,” Yarborough said. He is a Republican who represents areas in Northeast Florida.
Some Democratic members of the House are calling for Barnaby to be “censured and held accountable,” according to a written statement from the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
“What we witnessed Monday is textbook transphobia and hate. It is unfortunate that members of the Legislature have thought it wise to resort to such unnecessary and harmful words when debating bills,” said Rep. Dianne Hart, chair of the Black Caucus, in a written statement. “To make matters worse, they use God’s name, a God who said that ‘the greatest commandment is love,’ to spread such hate.”
Potential limits on drag shows
SB 1432, which was being debated when Senate Democrats criticized Rep. Barnaby, is already contentious legislation in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community in Florida.
The bill prohibits businesses from knowingly admitting a minor into what the bill calls an “adult live performance.” Businesses could lose their liquor or operating licenses or be fined if they are caught in violation of the proposed legislation.
According to the critics of the bill, the term “adult live performance” is too vague and could be used to target drag shows and the LGBTQ+ community.
In addition, the Senate added language in the legislation last week to prohibit government entities from issuing permits that would allow a person to conduct a performance in violation of the bill’s definition of an “adult live performance,” which LGBTQ+ advocates believe is intended to limit Pride parades and other public celebrations of the LGBTQ+ community.
Sen. Lori Berman said that the legislation “targets queer artistry” and “follows a pattern of discriminatory laws passed that put targets on the backs of queer Floridians.”
“We all know the group this bill is targeting,” said Berman, a Democrat who represents part of Palm Beach County. “We’ve heard amorphous arguments that the bill only applies to quote ‘adult live performances,’ but we know we really mean drag shows, drag queens and the LGBT community. Let’s be open and honest about it. This body gets really uncomfortable about the LGBTQ community.”
Sen. Yarborough, the bill sponsor, argued that so long as minors are not deliberately admitted to shows that involve “nudity, sexual activities and lewd conduct,” then businesses shouldn’t fret.
“As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to protect children from conduct that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in our communities the legitimate concern for parents and our constituents is about children being exposed to nudity, sexual activities and lewd conduct,” Yarborough argued. “So, unless an entity is planning to admit children to an adult live performance, or event that would include those activities, there should be no cause for distress about the provisions of this bill.”
The legislation still needs House approval before it goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration.
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