You know how much courage it takes to be who you are in the face of ignorant and mean-spirited social stigmatization?
Well, not as much as it takes to make a law that reinforces that ignorant and mean-spirited stigma, says one Florida Republican.
Just before a State House committee voted along party lines to pass a law requiring everyone to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their sex at birth (rather than the one with which they identify — unless they've undergone surgery), Rep. Larry Metz, a Republican from somewhere called Yalaha, said he applauded Rep. Frank Artiles, who sponsored the bill, on his courage for introducing the bill.
"Representative Artiles, I want to applaud you for your courage in bringing the bill forward," Metz said. "I know you've taken a lot of heat for the bill."
He and other Republicans said the bill's emphasis is on privacy and safety, because in places like Yalaha cases of men dressing up like women just so they can peek through bathroom stall gaps to watch women pee (or vice versa) are rampant, or at least one would assume so based on how petrified he is of what would happen if the bill dies.
"Privacy, I think, is still a very significant component of this bill," Metz said. "And it recites in the bill the longstanding societal custom and practice is that men's facilities are for men and women's facilities are for women. We can all acknowledge over many, many thousands of years, that's what we've evolved to in this society of ours."
What the committee's Democrats saw, though, was a bill that overturns/erodes locally adopted human rights ordinances and encourages bigotry and discrimination against a group that already faces nearly constant bigotry and discrimination, not to mention a higher-than-average likelihood of being victims of violence, poverty and depression.
St. Pete Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley said the bill will spark lawsuits and discourage international tourists from visiting such a closed-minded place, and that there are already laws on the books dealing with perverts who try to molest people in bathrooms.
“This is not the right message that we're sending," he said. "I think that unisex bathrooms throughout the country, the world, are widely used and there are really no issues of problems there. If you have single facility restrooms, one person at a time is going to be using it anyway. But despite that, if it's a unisex bathroom, sex crimes are sex crimes and we have very serious laws to prosecute people who engage in those crimes.”
Dudley then proceeded to hit the nail on the head by summarizing why Florida really needs to be split into two states.
“Certainly it feels more like we're in the sixties or fifties here today than having a forward-looking, useful law to be considered,” he said.
The committee heard extensive public testimony from people on both sides of the issue.
“The role of government if about nothing else is protecting citizens,” said John Stemberger, head of Florida Family Policy Council, one of those groups that spouts one Leviticus passage and ignores the rest. “It's a clear public safety issue and it's stunning that we are even talking about this.”
Stunning, indeed, especially to those who opposed to the bill.
"You are on the wrong side of history," said Regina Joseph. "When we see history textbooks of people holding signs saying 'race mixing is communism,' we know those people are on the wrong side of history. And right now you are definitely on the wrong side of history."
Some turned the safety argument on its head.
"I think it's very interesting that...people for this bill have repeated the idea that they're concerned about safety," said Naomi Bradley, who was representing the Tallahassee group Trans Lives Matter. "The reality is that, as a trans woman I have been followed into the bathroom by a cisgender man. He attempted to force me to perform fellatio upon him. This is not something that would put cis women in danger. This is something that would put trans women in danger, because we are the highest at risk for rape in this nation."
The bill passed 9-3 along strict party lines and was thus referred to another committee — it's unclear whether it will be heard on the House floor.
Equality Florida has launched a petition drive in an attempt to fight the bill. That petition can be found here.