Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs broad anti-transgender bill package into law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of five bills -- aimed at stripping the rights of the LGBTQ community and transgender community in particular -- into law on Wednesday. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
1 of 4 | Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of five bills -- aimed at stripping the rights of the LGBTQ community and transgender community in particular -- into law on Wednesday. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

May 17 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Wednesday a package of five bills that strips rights from LGBTQ citizens and transgender individuals in particular.

Called the "Let Kids Be Kids" bill package, the governor's office said the new laws will "protect the innocence of Florida's children."


"Florida is proud to lead the way in standing up for our children," DeSantis said in a statement. "As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy."

The package is headlined by S.B. 254, which bans minors from receiving gender-affirming care, including surgery and hormone therapy. It also includes laws to ban teachers from using preferred pronouns, restricts drag shows, bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don't match their birth gender identity, and gives DeSantis greater purview over youth sports.

DeSantis, who is expected to launch a 2024 campaign for president, has led the way on legislation targeting trans rights and gender identity and seized the opportunity to restrict abortion to the point that it is practically banned in the state.


The governor has continuously touted "freedom" as a central tenet of life in the Sunshine State.

Yet vulnerable gender and race populations, women's rights advocates, and educators, among others, have questioned whether that freedom applies to all of the state's residents.

The governor has not been shy about his vision for the state, as evidenced by the names given to the assorted legislative proposals he has championed recently.

In December 2021, DeSantis proposed the "Stop WOKE Act" aimed at taking on "corporate wokeness" and Critical Race Theory in schools. The Republican anti-LGBTQ legislation H.B. 1557, formally known as The Parental Rights in Education Act, quickly came to be known by opponents as the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill, and that title has come to be associated with the governor's political stance on LGBTQ issues, as well.

Floridians are still digesting the many laws passed in the recent legislative session. Here's a look at how the debates on the legislative topics unfolded.

Child-centered arguments

The numerous policies focused on the rights and visibility of the LGBTQ community -- specifically transgender people -- have been framed as measures to protect children. Opponents argue the opposite.

In his closing arguments in favor of Senate Bill 254, a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne Beach, characterized several bills as a concerted effort to "fight for children."


Those bills include House Bill 1521, which bans trans people from using bathrooms that don't match their birth-gender identity; House Bill 1069, which bans the use of gender-affirming pronouns in schools, and instruction on sex and identity; and Senate Bill 1438, which bans children from attending an "adult live performance," largely targeting drag shows. All three were signed into law on Wednesday.

"We can fight for children. We can declare in unambiguous terms that defying the natural process of puberty is not healthcare. It is an abomination," Fine said during the April 19 session. "With these votes on all of these bills we fight back. There is evil in this world and we can stand against it today."

SB 254 passed the House and Senate along party lines, though efforts by Fine to force people who already are receiving gender-affirming treatments, such as hormone therapy, to stop by the end of the year were removed from the bill.

As firmly as Fine staked his position by decrying gender transitioning as "evil," it was Republican colleague Rep. Webster Barnaby of Deltona who drew the harshest criticism for comments he made toward the trans community.

During an April 10 House Commerce Committee hearing to discuss the bathroom bill, Barnaby referred to transgender people speaking against the bill as "mutants" and "demons."


"The lord rebuke you, Satan and all of your demons and all of your imps who come parade before us," Barnaby said. "That's right, I called you demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are a part of this world."

Barnaby issued a brief apology the next day after backlash from both parties.

Like Fine, Barnaby said the bill was about protecting children, making baseless claims that children were being assaulted in public bathrooms. When presenting the bill to the committee, Rep. Rachel Plakon, R-Lake Mary, cited cases of men assaulting women in the women's bathroom as a reason for drafting the law.

Kate Danehy-Samitz, founder of Women's Voices of SW Florida, argued that Plakon's justification did not explain why the bill targets transgender people specifically.

"You're not afraid of trans women. You're afraid of cisgender men," Danehy-Samitz said.

The discourse has famously reached Florida classrooms with laws -- such as "Don't Say Gay" -- having broad implications on how teachers can interact with students, even beyond discussions of sex and gender identity.

During a March 15 House Education Quality subcommittee meeting, Rep. Stan McClain, R-Ocala, acknowledged that the language of the bill would bar teachers from discussing menstruation with students. When asked by Rep. Ashley Viola Gantt, D-Miami, whether it was considered that girls in third and fourth grade may have their period, McClain said it had not been "contemplated."


"That is astounding to me. If we're preparing children to be informed adults, we need to inform them about their bodies," said Gantt, a former teacher. "That is something very basic."

Gantt proposed an amendment to fix that flaw in the law but it was voted down and the bill passed through committee.

Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, one of 35 Democrats in the Florida House, said the bipartisan support for LGBTQ identity that existed when she took office in 2019 has all but vanished.

"The floodgates are open for very clear and aggressive homophobic and transphobic legislation," she said in an interview with UPI. "Because conservatives have skewed so far right, these issues have become a litmus test. If they don't pass these bills, they will get primaried."

Latest Headlines