Florida’s ‘slate of hate’ laws already wreaking havoc on LGBTQ youth, forcing parents to ‘watch their kids suffer’

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has escalated his war on the state’s LGBTQ community with the signing of four bills this week, dubbed by critics as the “slate of hate.”

State lawmakers ended the 2023 legislative session earlier this month after passing the largest number of anti-LGBTQ laws in the state’s history, said Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida.

Emboldened by a Republican supermajority in both legislative chambers, DeSantis advocated for laws designed to erase LGBTQ people — particularly transgender youth — in areas including education, healthcare, sports and free speech.

A ban on gender-affirming care for youth, and a bill whose vague language could be used to restrict drag shows and performances, went into effect immediately. An extension of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, as well as a law that criminalizes trans people using restrooms that align with their gender identity, are set to take effect on July 1.

But the lives of Floridians are already changing, and some parents of trans kids are trying to figure out what to do next.

Jaime Jara, a New York-born teacher, now lives in Osceola County with her three children, including her 11-year-old trans daughter, Dempsey. She says she feels overwhelmed by the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“It’s just kind of a whirlwind with everything [being signed] at once,” Jara told the Daily News.

Even though Dempsey’s birth certificate has reflected her true gender for four years, the new law will require her to state her gender assigned at birth, Jara explained. “You’re kind of being put in a position whether you lie on a form, or — I just don’t know what we’re gonna do yet.”

Bans on gender-affirming care for minors have become a major legislative topic in Republican-led states across the country. Despite being opposed by nearly all major health organizations in the U.S., 17 states have passed laws banning best-practice medication and healthcare for transgender youth.

However, the bill signed by DeSantis on Wednesday, SB 254, is “a very extreme version” of the ban, according to Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

“The state legislature passed the law imposing criminal penalties on doctors for providing [gender-affirming] care,” Minter told the Daily News. “It’s unheard of, and it’s very harmful.”

It also doesn’t make sense, he said.

“[These laws] acknowledge that gender dysphoria is a real condition, they acknowledge that there are children that have this condition, they acknowledge that it causes very severe suffering … and at the same time, they say, ‘We’re going to make it a crime to provide the treatment they need,’” he said.

On Friday, families of three trans kids in Florida will ask a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order immediately blocking the enforcement of SB 254.

The parents — represented by several LGBTQ civil rights organizations including the NCLR and the Human Rights Organization — blame Florida Republicans for forcing them to “watch their kids suffer rather than get them the safe and effective healthcare they need.”

SB 254 “ignores science, unconstitutionally inserts the state into family privacy and parental decision-making, deliberately provokes family conflict by inviting challenges to established custody orders, and tramples on the rights and wellbeing of transgender adolescents,” the parents said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, HB 1423, the bill dubbed the “anti-drag ban,” is already threatening Pride events and small businesses with criminal penalties for allowing minors to watch certain drag performances, even with a parent’s approval.

On April 21, organizers of a Pride celebration in Port St. Lucie canceled its annual PrideFest event after lawmakers passed the legislation. Later that week, hundreds of protesters gathered in Tallahassee for a “Drag Is Not a Crime” rally on the steps of the Florida State Capitol.

The other bill signed Wednesday — HB 1069, which bans classroom instruction on LGBTQ topics in public schools from grades K-8 — allows teachers or school staff to misgender trans students, and doubles down on DeSantis’ book-banning policies.

The legislation will allow anyone in the state to challenge a book on the basis of sexual content, but “does not protect anybody,” Jen Cousins, the co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, told reporters at a virtual press conference Wednesday.

“My parental rights are being violated by laws like this,” she added, “It’s going to allow people who are not accepting of families like mine, where I have two queer children, to dictate what my children can learn in school.”