Lawmakers could criminalize use of public facilities by transgender Floridians
Businesses would face fines and lawsuits for refusing to discriminate
(March 3, 2015) A bill that requires businesses to discriminate against transgender employees and customers and creates a legal quagmire for business and property owners will be heard in a Florida House subcommittee Wednesday.
State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami-Dade, wants to require people using single-sex public facilities to be able to prove their gender or face arrest if they cannot. House Bill 583 would enshrine transgender discrimination into state law and overrule local protections that transgender people in many parts of the state now enjoy.
The proposed law would also invade people’s privacy and pose a particular threat to the safety of transgender people, who are the targets of Artiles’s bill.
“It’s dehumanizing,” said Gina Duncan, a transgender woman who works with the advocacy group TransAction Florida. “This bill invents a problem that simply doesn’t exist. Transgender people need to use the restroom the same as anyone. If anything, we want and need to be protected from undue attention and harassment -- not be told we’re committing a crime if someone thinks we’re in the wrong place.”
The bill also makes schools and businesses liable for monetary damages. A person can collect a financial award if they feel they’ve encountered a person in a public single-sex facility who shouldn’t have been there.
“This poorly written bill is a lawsuit factory,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, the state’s largest organization advocating on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“How could it possibly be enforced except as an invitation to harass people in the bathroom -- with a financial incentive attached!”
Artiles tried to stop the passage of a Miami-Dade ordinance last year by singling out transgender protections, but a bipartisan majority of the county commission rejected his arguments. He has now taken his crusade to Tallahassee, hoping to undermine the ability of local leaders to pass basic protections.
His bill stands in contrast to the commitment of many Florida employers, who by adopting their own inclusive non-discrimination policies, have demonstrated their belief that accepting diversity makes their businesses stronger. Thirty-one major employers, including the likes of Disney World, the Miami Heat, and major technology firms, law firms and banks, have signed on to Equality Means Business, a program begun three years ago by Equality Florida. Hundreds of smaller businesses have, too.
“To approve this discriminatory law would just send the wrong message to the rest of the country,” Smith said. “Florida wants to be known as a state that welcomes diversity, a state that makes sure that everyone is safe and treated fairly.”
"Fears that transgender protections somehow pose a public safety risk are simply unfounded,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, Equality Florida’s public policy specialist.
“More than 50 percent of Florida’s population - more than 10-million Floridians - are already covered by local policies that ban discrimination. And no adverse incidents have been reported in Florida, nor in the 18 states and hundreds of municipalities across the country that have non-discrimination policies in place,” he said.
“Transgender people are a part of everyday American life. Instead of ostracizing or bullying them, our communities should embrace all people and ensure that they can be safe, be themselves, and live their daily lives without harassment.”
Artiles’s bill will be considered by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. It would have to pass through two other committees in order to reach the House floor, but Equality Florida and other organizations are hoping to stop it here.
State Senator Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, has filed a similar bill in the Senate. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.
Equality Florida Institute is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.