Despite Opposition Bathroom Bill Takes Another Step Forward

Mar 17, 2015

Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) introducing his bill.
Credit The Florida Channel

Rep. Frank Artiles’ (R-Miami) controversial single-sex facilities bill passed its second House committee Tuesday.  But the so-called bathroom bill’s progress has been dogged by loud public opposition.

To Artiles, putting laws on the books to keep the opposite sex out of a bathroom, locker room and the like, is just common sense.  And he’s unsettled by a Miami-Dade ordinance granting equal access to the trans community, because he says it allows men to enter female facilities.

“It is clear that some local governments want to explicitly grant transgender individuals protected class status under county and city ordinances,” Artiles says. “However, the specific language used by each county is not uniform.”

Artiles concedes Florida already has laws on the books to punish lewd or violent behavior, but he believes Miami-Dade’s ordinance will put women in harm’s way by granting bad guys greater access.

“In my opinion, I believe it gives the cover of law for a pedophile, sexual deviant, or a deviant in general to have access to a facility that they would not have access to but for a local ordinance like Miami-Dade,” Artiles says.

But members of the trans community are out in force arguing against Artiles’ measure.

Andrew Seeber speaking in opposition to Artiles' bill.
Credit The Florida Channel

“I, too, am deeply concerned about the safety of women and girls, and the protection of spaces designated for women and girls,” Andrew Seeber says.

He’s got a shaved head and short a goatee.  Seeber continues, “But I also am legally female.  And I think all in attendance here today would agree my appearance would produce the kind of disruption this bill purports to protect against.”

Seeber is a PhD student working on a dissertation in sociology and gender studies.  He, like many others, points out Artiles’ bill will force women in the state to share bathrooms with people who present themselves publicly as men.  Looking at it another way, it will also force people born as men who present themselves publicly as women, into the men’s room—putting them at risk of verbal, psychological, and even physical abuse.

Public commenter Brenna Burgess says, “This bill would make it so that a trans person could not go to the bathroom of their preferred gender, but they also could not go to the bathroom of their birth gender—for safety reasons.  

“To take it a step further,” Burgess says, “by enacting this bill, all women who look more masculine and all men who look more feminine will be asked to prove that they have the correct anatomy.”

And Carlos Smith of Equality Florida takes issue with Artiles’ argument toward limiting access.

“Why do we need a new bill to deter behavior that is already criminalized by no less than 20 Florida statutes?” Smith asks.  “I have it right here—right here, are a list of all the statutes that criminalize this type of behavior, including the intent to enter a public restroom and commit crimes.”

But Artiles had supporters as well.  Jane Karen of Destin recounted a story of visiting a church, and being in the bathroom when a man dressed as a woman came in.  She says the situation was awkward.

“It was a hard time for both of us,” she says.  “I ask you to vote yes on this bill.”  Thank you.”

Rep. Ken Roberson (R-Punta Gorda) has questions about enforcement.

“I don’t see how you’d ever enforce it,” he says, “without putting a security guard in front of every public facility in Florida.”

And he has doubts about the bill’s impact on public safety.

“I think it’s interesting that the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the police chiefs haven’t testified today before this committee,” Roberson says. 

During his closing statements, Artiles reiterated his open-door policy, but not before turning to attack some of his critics in the gallery.  He feels his bill is being unfairly compared to historical tragedies.

“I find it insulting that you would actually use the Holocaust and the death of 6 million Jews as well as slavery of 12.5 million Africans, slaves, in your dialogue.  It’s insulting.  Insulting.  Please don’t ever use that again in committee.”

Committee Chair Michael Bileca (R-Miami) stepped in to divert Artiles’ focus—asking, “Frank, will you please address the committee?”

The bill passed its second committee Tuesday morning.  There’s one more stop before it hits the House floor.  Senate Democrats are already promising to kill it if it makes it to their chamber.