By Katabella Roberts
Florida Republicans passed legislation on May 3 that would make it a crime for individuals to use public restrooms that do not align with their birth gender.
The bill, known as the “Safety in Private Spaces Act,” passed the state Senate in a 26–12 vote and the House in an 80–36 vote.
The legislation requires “certain entities that maintain water closets or changing facilities to meet specified requirements” and authorizes “persons to enter a restroom or changing facility designated for the opposite sex only under certain circumstances; providing that specified persons who enter certain restrooms or changing facilities and refuse to depart when asked to do so commit the criminal offense of trespass.”
Specifically, the bill (pdf) states that individuals age 18 or over who use public restrooms or changing facilities in state and local government buildings and schools, colleges, and detention centers that do not correspond with their sex assigned at birth could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
The term “changing facility” is defined in the bill as a “room in which two or more persons may be in a state of undress in the presence of others, including, but not limited to, a dressing room, fitting room, locker room, changing room, or shower room.”
Under the bill, the term “restroom” is defined as “a room that includes one or more water closets.” The term does not include a unisex restroom.
Bill Language ‘Not Targeting Any Specific Group’
The bill, which is a scaled-down version of an earlier bill originally impacting bathrooms across restaurants, privately owned businesses, and commercial property, does include exceptions, such as in cases where an individual enters a restroom or changing facility designated for the opposite sex in order to chaperone a child under the age of 12, an elderly person, or an individual with a disability.
It also includes exceptions for law enforcement or governmental regulatory purposes, to provide medical assistance, or for custodial, maintenance, or inspection purposes.
“The Legislature finds that females and males should be provided restrooms and changing facilities for their exclusive use in order to maintain public safety, decency, and decorum,” the bill states.
State Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican, argued during Wednesday’s floor hearing that the bill would protect women and denied it would target transgender individuals, adding that the legislation would apply to transgender individuals who had” fully transitioned” after undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
The lawmaker said there is “not anything in the language of this bill that is targeting any specific group,” according to Florida Politics. “Rather, it speaks to the differences that we have as different sexes, as male and female,” she added.
State Rep. Rachel Plakon, a Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said the legislation was “common sense.”
“We’ve had a huge scientific study with billions of people for 136 years that separate facilities work,” Plakon said.
Democrats Fear Bill Implications
However, Democrats, including state Sen. Victor Torres, argued the legislation could impact the rights of LGBT people, including those of his own transgender granddaughter.
“Somebody out there is going to take that into his or her own hands into stopping somebody who’s transgender from using a bathroom,” he said.
State Rep. Kelly Skidmore, who told lawmakers that her “sister’s boyfriend is a trans man,” also raised concerns over the bill.
“He is a full-blown man and you want him to walk into the girls’ room,” she said of her sister’s partner. “Do you understand? And then you want someone to go in there and tell him that he’s in the wrong bathroom. But it’s the bathroom you’re sending him to. You have no idea what you are doing here.”
The bill now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk to be signed into law, which he is widely expected to do.
Republicans also voted to approve a string of other bills on Wednesday, including one banning programs on gender identity and sexual orientation in colleges up to the 8th grade, and another that stop school staffers or students from being required to refer to people by pronouns that don’t correspond to the person’s birth sex.
The bills come as DeSantis is widely expected to announce a presidential run.