Bill would invalidate Florida transgender nondiscrimination protections

Published Feb. 6, 2015

A Miami Republican has filed a Florida House bill that would invalidate transgender nondiscrimination ordinances throughout the state.

State Rep. Frank Artiles on Wednesday filed HB 583, titled "Single-Sex Public Facilities."

Artiles' proposed one-sentence law: "Single-Sex Public Facilities: Requires that use of single-sex facilities be restricted to persons of sex for which facility is designated; prohibits knowingly & willfully entering single-sex public facility designated for or restricted to persons of other biological sex; provides exemptions; provides private cause of action against violators; provides for preemption."

"My No. 1 concern is public safety," Artiles said Friday.

Artiles, who chairs the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee, filed the bill in response to a Miami-Dade County ordinance passed Dec. 2, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

"It's not that the transgender or the gender identity community is dangerous by any means," Artiles said, "but (the ordinance) creates a giant loophole for criminals, sexual deviants and sexual predators to walk into a shower, a woman's locker room under the cover of law.

"A man such as myself can walk into the bathroom at LA Fitness while women are taking showers, changing, and simply walk in there. Someone can say, 'What are you doing there?' Under the ordinance, I don't have to respond. It's subjective. If I feel like a woman that day, I can be allowed to be in that locker room. I don't know about you, but I find that disturbing."

State Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, is sponsoring a companion bill, Artiles said.

LGBT activists throughout Florida learned of the proposal late Thursday afternoon.

Artiles "has filed a misguided bill that targets transgender Floridians by preventing access to facilities in public spaces," wrote SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima in an email to supporters.

SAVE lobbied heavily in 2013-14 for Miami-Dade County to update its 1998 gay-rights ordinance to also protect people on the basis of gender identity and expression. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson spearheaded the proposal.

Following several contentious public hearings, commissioners passed the updated law on Dec. 2.

The final vote was 8-3 following hours of debate and public discussion, in which opponents said they feared for their safety in public restrooms. "How could you look at a victim after they've been raped in a bathroom?" Sandra Wong of Cutler Bay told commissioners. "Where is my right to go safely into a bathroom?"

Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo unsuccessfully tried to amend the Miami-Dade proposal to exempt gender identity and expression protections in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers and dressing rooms.

Essentially, that is what Artiles' proposal would do statewide.

"House Bill 583 would also force businesses to discriminate against their own employees and customers, and invalidate nondiscrimination policies that already exist on the local level," Lima said in his letter.

Artiles' response: "I agree with you that it invalidates the law. The Miami-Dade law is a poorly written ordinance that affects the public safety of the general public."

Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, reacted sharply to Artiles' proposal.

"I am outraged to hear that a colleague in the Florida House of Representatives has filed a bill that would discriminate against our fellow Floridians," Cruz said in a news release. "A bill labeling members of our transgender community as criminals for living their lives is an abomination and an embarrassment. When will Republicans who serve in office realize that hate and discrimination have no place in government and will only destroy the fabric of this great nation?"

The Florida Democratic Party issued a statement Friday from state Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat and also the first openly gay lawmaker in Tallahassee:

"This extreme bill would take Florida in the wrong direction," Richardson said. "In order to attract the highest quality workers, we should be empowering our cities and businesses to promote inclusiveness and diversity among their employees. This bill would do the exact opposite, overriding local ordinances and forcing cities and businesses to discriminate against their own workers. Putting the transgender community in harm's way and hurting Florida's economic competitiveness for partisan political reasons is simply unacceptable."

The ACLU of Florida also weighed in:

"This 'show your papers to pee' bill denigrates both transgender and non-transgender people alike," said Daniel Tilley, the group's LGBT-rights staff attorney. "In addition to dehumanizing transgender people in particular, it invites humiliation and harassment of anyone who is not considered sufficiently feminine or masculine in the eyes of the beholder. Will girls in soccer uniforms be stopped at the bathroom door and asked to produce their birth certificates?"

Tilley said in a statement that 17 states and more than 200 cities around the nation have implemented gender identity protections.

About 20 municipalities throughout Florida, including Broward and Monroe counties and the city of Miami Beach, have outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender identity and few, if any, have reported problems in bathrooms and locker rooms.

"This absurd legislation targets the transgender community and seeks to dehumanize us by preventing access to facilities in public spaces," said Gina Duncan, transgender inclusion director for LGBT-rights group Equality Florida, in an email to supporters. "The Transgender Discrimination Bill is mean-spirited and underscores the vital work we are doing to pass a statewide non-discrimination law that protects our community in employment, housing and public accommodations."