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At White House, a plea to protect Florida’s transgender youth

On Nov. 5, the SPLC Action Fund joined other advocates at the White House for a meeting organized to address challenges faced by transgender people in Florida – especially youth.

The White House meeting came at a critical time for transgender people across the country: A record number of anti-trans bills were filed in state legislatures this past legislative cycle – with a corresponding increase in violence toward the transgender community. During the upcoming legislative session, the Florida Legislature is expected to attempt an expansion of hateful legislation that passed last session by including a trans youth health care ban.

Families are scared, and we need real direction from leadership at all levels of government to provide both reassurance that trans families are supported and concrete enforcement measures to protect the safety of the trans community. As we observe Transgender Awareness Week, we are grateful for the White House’s responsiveness to our concerns and ideas.

The meeting organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement and White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs also brought together Equality Florida and Southern Legal Counsel. The organizations were joined by transgender activists, state Sen. Shevrin Jones and state Reps. Carlos Smith and Michele Rayner-Goolsby, the three openly LGBTQ members of the Florida Legislature.

The response is understandable given recent action in the Florida Legislature. Two days before the Legislature adjourned in April, Florida joined a nationwide trend in passing a bill banning transgender athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender. It bypassed the assigned committee process. Instead, the ban was added to an existing education bill under the pretense that the amendment was education related.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 1. Recently, state Sen. Gary Farmer (Fort Lauderdale) and Rep. Kristen Arrington (Kissimmee) filed SB 212 and HB 6065, respectively, to repeal the ban.

During the White House meeting, however, the SPLC Action Fund focused on what can be done to help the trans community now. We asked the White House team to increase its focus on the epidemic of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, by using resources such as the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorneys’ offices throughout Florida.

We also recommended that the White House continue applying pressure on federal agencies to implement President Biden’s executive order to enforce federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination and include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such enforcement would be consistent with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, which found such discrimination is barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Biden administration should also ensure the Bostock decision is reflected throughout the federal government and in the rules and regulations around Title IX, the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws that prohibit discrimination because of sex.

We’re hopeful that with the Biden administration’s prioritization of trans rights and addressing discrimination, we can make significant strides to protect the safety and well-being of trans people and their families in Florida and across the country. If the stories shared during the White House meeting are any indication, action is urgently needed amid the anti-trans climate.

“We heard in detail about how these messages are getting absorbed in the community and are being reflected back on our trans youth,” said meeting attendee Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director. “We heard about how much less safe our trans youth and their families feel. We’re grateful to the Biden administration for bringing people together to listen and learn. We all need to be pushing back on the toxic culture war politics in Tallahassee.

“When Floridians learn who these families really are, not the dehumanizing caricatures we hear from Tallahassee, hearts and minds change.” 

The SPLC Action Fund will remain vigilant in its efforts to support LGBTQ rights in the Florida Legislature and will provide additional updates before and during the 2022 legislative session. The Learning for Justice program also offers these resources to educators to encourage supportive school policies and conversations for transgender and nonbinary students.

Carrie Boyd is the SPLC Action Fund’s Florida policy director. Scott McCoy is the SPLC Action Fund’s interim deputy legal director for LGBTQ rights.

Photo above: A transgender flag is waved at an LGBTQ pride march. (Credit: Shutterstock)