Metro Weekly

Florida Politician Calls Trans People “Demons” and “Mutants”

State Rep. Barnaby later apologized for calling transgender witnesses "demons and imps" during a hearing on an anti-trans bathroom bill.

Florida State Rep. Webster Barnaby called transgender people “demons” and “mutants” during a hearing on an anti-transgender “bathroom bill.” – Photo Illustration by Todd Franson. Original Photo: Florida House of Representatives.

A Florida Republican has apologized after referring to transgender people as “mutants” and “demons” during a hearing on an anti-transgender “bathroom” bill being pushed by his fellow party members.

State Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Deland) made the comments during a hearing in which multiple members of the transgender community voiced their opposition to the proposed bill.

The bill has been dubbed the “Safety in Private Spaces Act.”

Under the bill, healthcare facilities, businesses, and educational institutions would be required to have multi-user single-sex restrooms “designated for exclusive use” by females and single-sex restrooms “designated for exclusive use” by males.

The bill would allow — or at least not outlaw — unisex or single-stall restrooms and would require single-sex changing facilities based on a person’s assigned sex at birth.

The bill also defines female as “a person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing eggs,” and male as “a person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing sperm.”

During a House Commerce Committee hearing on Monday focusing on the proposed bill, Barnaby said that listening to transgender people speak about their personal experiences was “like I’m watching an X-Men movie” with “mutants living among us on planet Earth.”

Of witnesses who identified themselves as queer, transgender, or nonbinary during testimony, Barnaby said, “We have people that live among us today on planet Earth that are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet. This is the planet Earth, where God created men, male, and women, female. I’m a proud Christian conservative Republican. I’m not on the fence, not on the fence.”

Barnaby added he was “offended that people can come before this committee and try to intimidate us and try to strike fear into us.”

“It’s time to push back,” he said, referring to gender dysphoria — a recognized medical condition — as “evil,” adding that he was “not afraid to address the dysphoria or the dysfunction.”

“The Lord rebuke you, Satan, and all of your demons and all of your imps who come parade before us,” Barnaby said. “That’s right, I called you demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world. So, I’m saying my righteous indignation is stirred. I am sick and tired of this. I’m not going to put up with it. You can test me and try to take me on, but I promise you, I’ll win every time.”

According to Orlando Weekly, State Rep. Kristen Arrington (D-Kissimmee), who followed Barnaby in questioning witnesses, was taken aback by the comments, but thanked transgender people for coming to the State Capitol in Tallahassee to testify against the bill, commending their “bravery.”

“I see you, hear you, understand and love you,” Arrington said. “Definitely, I’m still a little bit thrown off from the last comments here and just really want to let you all know that there are many here that understand and support you.”

Other Republican lawmakers who supported the bill sought to distance themselves from Barnaby’s comments and his assertion that living openly as transgender is innately sinful or evil.

“I’m also a Christian man, and I just want to say to some of the folks in here who shared their testimony, I appreciated you coming up. You’re not an evil being. I believe that you’re ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ [by God],” said State Rep. Chase Tremont (R-Port Orange). “And I want you to live your life as well. There’s no easy way to go about addressing legislation. There’s no easy way to make everybody happy on all sides. There just isn’t.”

Commerce Committee Chairman Bob Rommel (R-Naples) later told Daytona Beach NBC affiliate WESH he didn’t condone Barnaby’s rhetoric and called for “respect” between people who disagree on political issues.

When asked why he didn’t stop Barnaby’s rant, Rommel claimed he motioned for his fellow Republican to “calm down a little bit,” noting that Barnaby slowed down and paused briefly before spitting out the rest of his statements.

“I mean…maybe I could have reacted faster and had, you know, the audio-visual guys cut his mic off, I guess, but I’ve never had to do that,” Rommel said.

Equality Florida issued a statement condemning Barnaby’s remarks.

“Today, parents and children, many of whom traveled hours to share their stories, had to listen to GOP State Rep. Barnaby slander the transgender community from the dais, and Republican leadership in the room refused to put a stop to it. 

“This hideous bigotry has always been at the root of the wave of anti-LGBTQ hysteria sweeping our state. The agenda of [Gov. Ron] DeSantis and his legislative cronies has always been aimed at empowering this brand of bigotry and dehumanizing the LGBTQ community. Shame on Rep. Barnaby for spewing his transphobic vitriol, and shame on Chair Rommel for sitting idly by and allowing it to happen.”

Barnaby reportedly apologized for his remarks following the backlash against them.

Republicans on the committee approved the “Safety in Private Spaces Act” on a party-line vote, setting it up for a potential vote by the full House of Representatives. The bill is widely expected to pass both chambers and be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made his opposition to LGBTQ rights and other “woke” concepts part of his brand as he contemplates a possible run for U.S. president in 2024.

Supporters of the bill have claimed — as they do with any measure restricting LGBTQ rights — that the bill is needed to protect women and children from sexual predators who might exploit lax rules governing bathroom usage in order to enter intimate spaces and target people for abuse.

Opponents say it’s just another bill being pushed this legislative session that targets members of the transgender community by seeking to discourage them from having their gender identity affirmed in terms of how they identify or dress, or which spaces they are allowed to access.

Last week, the Republican-led Florida Senate passed a bill to prevent doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender-identifying minors. On Tuesday, that chamber also passed a bill prohibiting cities from issuing permits for events featuring “live adult performances,” including exhibitions of drag. 

Additionally, last month, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to expand the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill — aka the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — to prohibit discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools through the eighth grade, and only permit “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” discussions or lessons in grades 9-12 in a limited context, such as a sex education class.

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