Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bundle of bills targeting transgender people that one activist condemned as "the most extreme slate of anti-trans laws in modern history."
Surrounded by children at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, DeSantis—a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate—signed H.B. 1069, which expands the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" law to prohibit educators from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-12.
Also sometimes called the "Don't Say They" law, the legislation prohibits transgender students and staff from sharing updated preferred pronouns with each other.
DeSantis also signed S.B. 254, which bans gender-affirming care—which many trans people and doctors have called "lifesaving"—for minors, while prohibiting nurse practitioners from providing such healthcare to adults. Physicians who violate the law are subject to criminal charges.
Meanwhile, adults seeking gender-affirming care must obtain written permission from the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine—whose members are appointed by the governor and have been inimical to transgender healthcare.
The law also grants state courts the power to seize children "if the child has been subjected to or is threatened with being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures."
Dr. Marci Bowers, president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, said in a statement that S.B 254 "has created a chilling effect on the medical community by inserting politics into healthcare."
"Let me be clear, the medical community is united in endorsing gender-affirming care as safe, effective, and necessary care," she asserted. "Healthcare providers follow best practices based on science and research, and there's no place for misinformation or extreme ideology in our work."
"Florida politicians are acting in direct contradiction to decades of research that show the mental and physical health benefits of gender-affirming care," Bowers added. "Decisions about healthcare, including gender-affirming care, must remain between a healthcare provider and their patient, without political interference."
Another bill signed by DeSantis, S.B. 1438, bans minors from attending "adult live performances" like drag shows. The measure has led to the cancellation or scaling back of events including Treasure Coast Pridefest in Port St. Lucie.
"The most troubling bill, though," wrote activist Erin Reed, "is a ban on transgender people in bathrooms that comes with criminal charges and jail sentences."
The law, H.B. 1521, empowers cisgender people to order transgender people to leave publicly available restrooms—in places including airports, sports arenas, convention centers, beaches, parks, and public and even private healthcare and educational institutions—or face criminal trespass charges that could result in up to a year behind bars for those who refuse to comply. Transgender people in Florida are likely to be jailed in facilities that don't match their gender identity, exposing them to serious risk of sexual assault and other crimes.
Reed said the law "will effectively give second-class citizen status to transgender people in Florida."
Other critics pointed to recent incidents in which trans people have been harassed while using restrooms.
During Wednesday's signing ceremony, DeSantis proclaimed, "What we've said in Florida is we are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy."
However, LGBTQ+ advocates condemned the new laws.
"This is an all-out attack on freedom," said Joe Saunders, senior political director at Equality Florida, refuting DeSantis' claim that he governors "the freest state" in the nation.
"Free states don't strip parents of the right to make healthcare decisions for their children. Free states don't ban books, censor curriculum, or muzzle free speech," Saunders continued. "DeSantis doesn't see freedom as a value worth defending, he sees it as a campaign slogan in his bid for the White House. And he is setting freedom—and Florida's reputation—ablaze in his desperation to win the GOP nomination."
"The nation should be on high alert," Saunders added. "We are all Floridians as DeSantis seeks to export this blueprint of authoritarianism to the rest of the country."