Democratic leaders introduce bills to protect LGBTQ Floridians

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By Giselle Balido

October 12, 2023

If it passes, the legislation will prohibit the use of the gay “panic” defense intended to excuse crimes on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is responsible for the defendant’s violent reaction.

In recognition of LGBTQ+ History Month in October, Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D – Broward) and State Representative Rita Harris (D – Orlando) have introduced bills to protect LGBTQ+ Floridians from having the “gay and transgender panic” defenses used against them in court.

Known as the “Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defenses Prohibition Act,” Senate Bill 156 and House Bill 137 seek to prohibit the use of the so-called “panic” defense intended to excuse crimes, such as murder and assault, on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is responsible for the defendant’s violent reaction.

“The ‘panic’ defense is an affront to justice, allowing perpetrators to evade accountability for heinous acts based on prejudice,” Leader Book said in a statement. “This legislation is a crucial step in safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ Floridians, sending a clear message that hate has no place in our courts or our communities.”

Calling it “common sense legislation,” Rep. Harris added that “it is well past time for politicians to stop vilifying the LGBTQ+ community and stand against hate.”

A hate-filled legislative session

The proposed bill comes after a 2023 legislative session rife with anti-LGBTQ+ bills that explicitly target Florida’s LGBTQ+ citizens, including House Bill 1069, the “Don’t Say Gay” expansion that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from pre-K through the eighth grade (the Florida Board of Education separately expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” ban to cover all grades).

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The Republican governor also signed into law Senate Bill 254, an extreme ban on gender affirming care that would inflict criminal penalties (including felony penalties) on providers who give gender-affirming care to minors, despite plenty of evidence pointing to its positive mental health impacts on transgender people.

Also signed into law was House Bill 1521, an anti-trans bathroom bill that criminalizes transgender people for using the restroom that matches their gender identity and prohibits gender-inclusive restrooms and changing facilities in schools, public shelters, healthcare facilities, and jails.

“With all the anti-transgender legislation happening in Florida, we have to say the right word. This is a genocide,” Andrea Montañez, a Trans Activist for the Hope Community Center in Orlando, Florida, told Floricua during a one-on-one interview this year.

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The impact of these laws has been profound on Florida’s LGBTQ community.

A study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) released earlier in the year found that 36% of LGBTQ+ Floridians—including 80% of transgender and nonbinary adults—want to leave or have already taken steps to leave the state as a result of Gov. DeSantis and Florida Republicans’ new restrictions on gender-affirming care.

A society that values every individual

Book and Harris’ bill serves as the latest Democratic response to the flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that are marginalizing a large segment of Floridians.

“Our duty is to create a society that values and protects every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Leader Book.

“This is common sense legislation that protects Florida’s LGBTQ+ citizens so that direct hate against them may not stand up in court,” added Rep. Harris.

Florida’s legislative session is set to begin on January 9, 2024. If passed, the bill would take effect July 1, 2024.

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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