A multi-gender bathroom sign on April 12, 2023. Credit: Briana Michel
Under a new rule, Florida community colleges must restrict bathroom usage to the state’s definition of biological sex at birth. But it’s unclear what specific discipline students could face if they don’t use their assigned bathroom.
At a Florida Board of Education meeting Wednesday, the issue of bathrooms and biological sex became contentious. Some public commenters yelled at the meeting related to the issue. The board chairman, Ben Gibson, asked public commenters to maintain respect and civility.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. called the bathroom rule a matter of student safety. However, a handful of public commenters took issue and offense to that mindset.
One public commenter mentioned a 2018 study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute that found “reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms are exceedingly rare.”
“As a non-binary person growing up in Florida, I’ve often been told by folks like yourselves that I’m not valid,” they said, addressing the board of education. “‘Non-binary’ is not a made-up gender. But you know what is made up? This problem you’re pretending to solve.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives and senior policy advisor with Equality Florida, forcefully outlined his group’s opposition to the rule, saying it went beyond the scope of the original legislation with its requirement that institutions have procedures ready to investigate complaints of people using their unassigned bathroom.
“What is a trans person supposed to do if they need to use the restroom and there’s no unisex facility available?” Smith asked. “They’re going to face termination. They’re going to be rooted out of the Florida College System.”
The rule for the Florida College System, which is the system of community colleges, is meant to adhere to the “Safety in Private Spaces Act,” which specifies that public buildings and educational facilities must provide males and females “restrooms and changing facilities for their exclusive use, respective to their sex, to maintain public safety, decency, decorum, and privacy;” or otherwise provide unisex bathrooms.
That act came about from legislation, HB 1521, passed in May and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The law that went into effect July 1 “finds that females and males should be provided restrooms and changing facilities for their exclusive use, respective to their sex, to maintain public safety, decency, decorum, and privacy.”
The board on Wednesday also approved rules to dictate that all K-12 private schools and state colleges regulate access to bathrooms and changing rooms to biological sex.
The new rule for the Florida College System says that boards of trustees at those institutions report to the state that they have codified this policy in their student codes of conduct and general policies and procedures by April 1, 2024.
The rule also clarifies that it includes student housing owned or operated by the institution.
The institutions must update their student handbooks, disciplinary procedures, and code of conduct in adherence to the new bathroom rule. But it’s currently unclear how exactly students could be punished if they don’t follow the rules.
The community colleges can also fire an administrator or teacher if they use the wrong bathroom one time. After a second offense, the colleges must fire the teachers and administrators.
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