Horrific Florida Bill Would Imprison Trans People for Using Public Bathrooms

Why must bathrooms be a battleground?

Photo by woaiss / Shutterstock.com

Gay marriage has been legal in Florida for a month now, and at this point, even the state’s hardcore conservatives seem increasingly resigned to the fact that marriage equality is here to stay. Accordingly, Florida’s more bigoted legislators have decided to turn their ire toward another maligned, disfavored minority—trans people—by proposing one of the most viciously sadistic, hypocritical bills the legislature has ever considered.

The basic purpose of the bill is quite simple: to forbid trans people from using the public bathroom that matches their true gender. According to the bill’s text, any trans person who enters a “single-sex public facility” that doesn’t match their “biological sex” is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. A “single-sex public facility” includes bathrooms “maintained by an owner of public accommodations, a school, or a place of employment”—basically, any public bathroom in the entire state. Any trans person who violates the act could be sentenced to one year in prison.

It gets much, much worse. Any non-trans person who discovers a trans person using a bathroom that doesn’t align with their “biological sex” would be permitted to sue that trans person under the act. (If sued successfully, the trans person would have to pay their accuser’s attorney fees.) And, in a final turn of the screw, an “owner of public accommodations, a school, or a place of employment” who allows a trans person to use the bathroom of their true gender is liable for a civil suit. In other words, if a store owner does not actively prevent trans people from using her bathrooms, she can be sued by other customers. And of course, if the trans-friendly store owner is found to have allowed a trans person to use the bathroom, she’ll not only have to pay damages to disgruntled customers—she’ll also have to pay their attorney’s fees.

The obvious intent of this bill is to humiliate trans people by opening them up to criminal and civil liability merely for performing the most basic of bodily functions. Trans people already face harassment, discrimination, and sometimes violence while attempting to use the bathroom. This bill would effectively give anti-trans harassers the state’s blessing, while providing them a new avenue through which to shame trans Floridians—the court system. Many trans people are already anxious about using public bathrooms; some are afraid to leave their homes given the risk of verbal and physical abuse they face in public facilities. With this bill, the state would effectively legalize anti-trans harassment, sending a resounding message to trans people that they are not welcome in public life.

But perhaps the galling component of the bill is its astonishing interference into private businesses. For years, conservatives have been complaining that LGBT non-discrimination ordinances impede the liberty of business owners. These businesses, conservatives argue, should have the freedom to conduct their affairs however they so choose—even if that means kicking out gay customers who want to buy their products. With the tables turned, however, Florida’s right-wing legislators have changed their tune, arguing that private business owners should be forbidden from letting trans customers use their bathrooms. This intrusion into the autonomy of businesses is as hideously hypocritical as it is unsurprising. Most conservatives are only willing to defend business owners’ rights so long as they’re exercising their right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. When businesses wish to tolerate LGBTQ customers, conservatives have no problem passing a law restricting their liberty.

It is probably too soon to tell whether Florida’s bill will pass—though given this legislature’s track record, any bill designed to demean a gender or sexual minority has fair odds of becoming law. Either way, the mere existence of such a mean-spirited bill sends a blunt message to the state’s trans community that they are not welcome here. It was probably inevitable that, once the marriage equality debate settled down, those who dedicate their lives to promoting hatred would set their sights on trans people. But the maliciousness and celerity with which Florida’s legislators have zeroed in on the trans community suggests the next battle for LGBTQ rights will be a brutal one.