A fight over a bill to ban transgender girls from women’s sports is intensifying, with two Democrats lobbing accusations at Republican House members of engaging in “red meat politics” at a press conference Wednesday.
The “informal” LGBTQ caucus of the Florida Legislature is pretty small. There are just three openly gay members.
So, when contentious bills that touch on LGBTQ issues arise, Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Michele Rayner spend a lot of time talking on the House floor, likely following the political strategy and adage of “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Earlier in the Session when the Chamber was set to pass another bill Smith said harmed the LGBTQ community, the “Parental Bill of Rights,” Smith debated the bill with his husband watching from the west gallery.
“It was good to have him in there, specifically during that discussion because, look, we were having a discussion about the challenges of LGBTQ youth being able to find acceptance within their families and their own communities, which is something that I’ve struggled with, as well with my own family and my own experiences,” Smith said.
The importance of representation in the Legislature was echoed by Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for Equality Florida, an advocacy group for LGBTQ issues.
“Having the directly impacted community engaged in the process is so important,” Maurer said. “It is so much harder for folks to espouse discrimination when they’re face to face with the people that they’re going to be (affecting).”
But Smith and Raynor’s efforts often go nowhere with the conservative Florida House majority. Democrats filed 19 amendments on the bill (HB 1475) disallowing transgender girls from women’s sports. Republicans voted down all amendments. Only Republican Rep. Sam Killebrew defected on one amendment. Even one Democratic legislator, Rep. James Bush, has not sided with the rest of his caucus on the legislation in committee votes.
But at a press conference Wednesday afternoon held by Equality Florida, Smith and Rayner contended the way Republican House members are voting does not line up with what they say privately about the bill.
Rayner called on Republicans to, “Vote down this bill. Stand up, and do what’s right. Stand up and do the things that you’ve told me and Rep. Guillermo Smith, that privately you know that this is a bad bill.”
Rayner said her Republican colleagues are worried Republican leadership will fund primary challengers if they vote against the bill.
“There are many Republican lawmakers who tell us that they want to vote against the bill but can’t,” Guillermo Smith said.
Guillermo Smith expounded saying Florida Republicans are latching on to a national political issue. Dozens of other Republican-led state legislatures are taking up bills about transgender athletes this year.
“It comes from national right-wing organizations that have decided that targeting transgender youth is something that works for them politically. It’s red meat for their base,” Guillermo Smith said. “When former President (Donald) Trump said something about it at CPAC a few weeks ago suddenly it became a national issue.”
At CPAC Trump said in part, “Young girls and women are incensed that they are being forced to compete against those who are biological males.”
As for lobbying on the bill behind the scenes, Maurer told a reporter before the press conference most Republican legislators would take meetings on the issue only after they had voted.
“Lawmakers would meet with us after a committee vote, which was less than optimal.” Maurer said.
Maurer said Equality Florida had a 10-minute meeting with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck only after the bill’s final committee hearing. Maurer said the meeting was scheduled before the last House committee hearing on the bill, but before the meeting took place, the timing of the meeting was changed to occur after the bill’s final committee hearing.
Rep. Rene Plasencia declined to meet with Equality Florida. Plasencia told Florida Politics he met with “various constituents who were transgender” because he wanted to make sure he heard from “people being impacted and not a special interest group who gets paid to support or oppose only one viewpoint.”
Maurer said the meetings that have taken place after committee votes are not translating to changed minds on the House floor.
“And even when we hear from some of those lawmakers that they realize where the bill is over-broad, they’re not taking the votes on amendments like we saw yesterday that would remedy those issues. So that’s really disheartening,” Maurer said.
Guillermo Smith said the vote on the House bill was “predetermined,” guided by Republican leadership.
But what was not predetermined was a statement made by the NCAA Board of Governors, which cited NCAA policy that championships should only be held in locations where “hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The statement could threaten championship games in states, such as Florida, that engage in policies NCAA deems discriminatory. NCAA has its own policies and procedures for competitive transgender athletes.
Companion legislation in the Senate was temporarily postponed after the news.
“I don’t think it was coincidental that after the NCAA issued their statement, merely three to five hours later, the Senate bill was TP’d (temporarily postponed). And, of course, it was ‘oh it’s a rules issue.’ Well, it wasn’t a rules issue as it was racing through the Senate, but all of a sudden now it has become a rules issue,” Rayner said.
Senate spokesperson Katie Betta tweeted Monday the delay was “for planning purposes.”