The latest proposed restriction on where sexuality can be discussed has LGBTQ advocates worried.
At a press conference on Orlando, LGBTQ business leaders and political advocates condemned a bill threatening state funding for certain organizations. They noted a broad reading of the bill (HB 599) would make it virtually impossible for transgender Floridians to live in the state.
“This is the Don’t Say Gay or trans at work bill,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, senior policy advisor for Equality Florida.
Rep. Ryan Chamberlin, a Belleview Republican, filed the legislation in November, and he characterized the bill as a protection to conservatives who don’t accept a gender ideology. The bill would prohibit any state funding going to nonprofits that require LGBTQ sensitivity training.
“Only if they receive taxpayer funding from the state and force any pronoun, gender identity or woke training to be required for employment,” Chamberlin told Florida Politics. “They also cannot force the use of or penalize their employees for the lack of use of these pronouns or gender identities in their workplace.”
But critics said the bill as filed reaches far beyond, arguing it censors for individuals to even ask co-workers to use a different pronoun than the one assigned at birth.
If passed as written, the state would officially take a policy “that a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.”
In addition to saying no contractor must be required to use different pronouns for employees, the bill also says an employee cannot even provide a preferred pronoun to an employer.
Rep. Rita Harris, an Orlando Democrat, said the legislation regulates businesses in ways fiscal conservatives should oppose.
“It’s not only discriminatory to target this committee the way it has been targeted, but it’s also bad for business,” Harris said.
The legislation notably has no Senate companion right now, providing no clear path forward, but after anti-LGBTQ bills in the Legislature found life in Session repeatedly, advocates won’t take any chances.
Denise Merritt, Board Chair for The Pride Chamber, said she’s appealing directly to lawmakers to quash this bill early.
“This law hits close to home affecting businesses, especially our cherished LGBTQ nonprofits,” she said. “It puzzles me as Republicans usually champion less government and business. Yet here we are facing an intrusion into how employers address their employees and how employees may want to be addressed.”
For some organizations, the bill represents an existential threat by prohibiting state funding to groups dedicated to serving an LGBTQ clientele.
George Wallace, CEO for The Center Orlando, said his organization for years has reached out to gay populations to provide HIV prevention and health care services. Heather Wilkie, executive director of Zebra Youth, provides housing and mental health services to LGBTQ youth, who make up about 40% of all homeless youth by some estimates.
Both organizations in recent years saw funding approved by the Florida Legislature by vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. This legislation, though, represents a threat to the group’s entire mission, with a threat the state could dissolve the charities that serve an LGBTQ population.
Advocates paint the bill as the latest expansion of a state fight against LGBTQ equality, something many felt stepped up first with a ban on trans girls in female school sports but which has continued to bathroom segregation laws, transgender health care restrictions, a drag show limitations already deemed unconstitutional, and most notoriously, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which restricts classroom instruction that mentions sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This is another example of erasing transgender experience, of erasing the concept of gender identity, and another vehicle to demonize the transgender community, and we’re seeing this manifested in violence against the community all across the country,” said Gina Duncan, Equality Florida Central Florida’s development director.
“Why? Because a particular governor has a vision, as you might know, said he wants to make America Florida, and he wants a classic, conservative, extremist, fascist state that is conservative, does not embrace diversity, and certainly doesn’t embrace the LGBTQ community.”