Florida university staff could be fired under proposed restroom policy

The measure, aimed at transgender employees, is required under a new state law.
The Florida Board of Governors has proposed a policy to go with Florida's new law regulating who can use what restrooms at the state's public universities. Violators could face discipline, including dismissal.
The Florida Board of Governors has proposed a policy to go with Florida's new law regulating who can use what restrooms at the state's public universities. Violators could face discipline, including dismissal. [ SARA D. DAVIS | Getty Images North America ]
Published Sept. 20|Updated Sept. 21

A proposed policy would allow Florida universities to fire employees found to violate a new state law requiring people to use only public restrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth.

The policy would require universities to maintain restrooms and changing facilities exclusively for use by females and males, or provide unisex restrooms and changing facilities for use by a single occupant or families. It refers to the “Safety in Private Spaces Act,” signed in May by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which defines females and males by “biological sex” and reproductive capabilities assigned at birth.

Employees who violate the law would face “disciplinary actions up to and including dismissal” under the policy, which is under consideration by the Board of Governors overseeing the state’s 12 public universities.

A similar policy was approved in August for Florida’s 28 state colleges after a vote by their governing body, the State Board of Education.

Amanda Phalin, the Board of Governors’ faculty member cast the sole dissenting vote Wednesday against advancing the policy for feedback before the board votes on it in November. She said she hoped the board would collect data on the policy’s impact.

“I’m aware that state law requires us the Board of Governors to pass this regulation,” she said. “However, I believe it is also my duty to point out that, in places where similar laws have been implemented, there has been an increase in harassment of people who were using or attempting to use the restroom.”

A staff analysis of the law stated that it was introduced with the intent to “maintain public safety, decency, decorum and privacy.” Enforcement would take place after people in apparent violation “refuse to depart when asked to do so” by a school administrator, faculty member, security staff or law enforcement officer.

Charlie Suor, former president of the Trans+ Student Union at the University of South Florida and a graduate student, voiced concern about the vagueness of the law and how it would be enforced.

“What if we have a student who just really hates our class?” said Suor, who describes himself as transmasculine. “Then they’re like, ‘Well, I saw my trans professor, I saw my trans (teaching assistant) use this bathroom.’ You can’t prove the report of us using the bathroom.”

Mandatory bathroom monitors seemed “silly,” Suor said.

“It’s clear what they’re trying to do,” Suor said. “They are of course directly targeting trans students, employees, faculty, staff, etc. There’s no real like plan of action of how they’re going to do that, which on one hand is good, because then they can’t.”

Suor also pointed to other problems with the law.

“They want you to use the bathroom for your gender assigned at birth, but that would cause significant issues if I were to use the women’s restroom,” he said. “They’re so scared of putting men in women’s restrooms because that’s what they believe trans women are, and meanwhile they are putting men in women’s restrooms.”

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Rain Weinstein, a transgender student and employee at the USF St. Petersburg campus, met with the university’s general counsel and human resources representatives to ask what the law would mean.

“It’s very clear on my end that schools do not know how to handle this incoming legislation, because they do not have enough trans voices in these actual processes,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said it was frustrating to feel the need to have to share personal trauma and experiences to have to find answers, but recommended more students try to talk with administrators.

“They’re all human beings, right?” Weinstein said. “And they’re people with much more important things on their mind than bathrooms. And I think we really need to start appealing to the humanity inside of these bureaucracies inside of university systems to help combat against the effects of some of these policies.”

Charles Lydecker, chair of the Board of Governors’ facilities committee, said he welcomed feedback before the board votes on the policy in November.

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.