Oct 3, 2023 - News

Transgender activists sue over Florida bathroom ban

Illustration of a red circle, with the state of Florida forming a bar across it, with the transgender pride flag underneath.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A group of transgender and non-binary people from across the country, including an activist from Tampa Bay, are challenging a Florida law that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that align with their gender.

Driving the news: The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Gainesville-based Southern Legal Counsel filed a lawsuit Friday arguing the law is unconstitutional.

Why it matters: The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, marks the first challenge to a law that activists say puts up another barrier for transgender people to exist in public. Those who violate the law governing bathroom use in public buildings like schools and city halls could face misdemeanor trespassing charges.

Plus: The lawsuit joins a growing list of court challenges against presidential hopeful Gov. Ron DeSantis' priority legislation.

Flashback: DeSantis signed House Bill 1521 in May after a contentious path through the Legislature. Democratic lawmakers and LGBTQ activists lamented the harm it would cause gender non-conforming people. They expressed concerns with how the bill would be enforced, noting that some trans people present as their gender while some cisgender people don't.

  • The bill's Republican sponsors said it wasn't intended to target any group.

Yes, but: During a public hearing about the bill, Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby referred to trans people as "mutants," "demons" and "imps" before voting to push it forward, fueling accusations that the bill was discriminatory.

  • The lawsuit quotes Barnaby and several other lawmakers and state officials as evidence that the law is part of a broader anti-trans agenda.
  • Barnaby apologized for the remarks. He did not return Axios' call and email seeking comment Monday.

The intrigue: The lawsuit lists the lead defendant, Andrew Bain, the top prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties. DeSantis appointed Bain to the post after ousting Monique Worrell, who in 2021 signed a statement vowing not to pursue prosecution against transgender people seeking gender-affirming care.

  • Requests by phone and email to Bain's office for comment were not returned Monday.

Zoom in: Among the plaintiffs is 26-year-old Lindsey Spero, a non-binary activist from the St. Petersburg area who went viral this year after injecting testosterone at a state medical board meeting.

  • Spero, who has facial hair and a deep voice, plans to avoid public restrooms on their drive to and stay in Orlando for Saturday's march rather than risk using a women's restroom as required by the law, the lawsuit says. They did not return Axios' call and text seeking comment Monday.

What they're saying: "When Florida suppresses my gender through this bathroom ban, I feel like I have to withdraw from the public," Spero said in a court filing. "I have to be considerate of the space I take up. I have to be very intentional about what I do because an event or an outing can quickly become unsafe for me."

  • They also expressed confusion about enforcement of the law, saying they "do not know what I need to prove that I am in the 'right' bathroom if I was stopped by law enforcement or private individuals. My body defies the very cisgender norms that this law is based on."

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