The Florida State Board of Education unanimously voted earlier this week impose harsher penalties for transgender student and staff at state colleges who are found using restroom and changing facilities that align with their gender identity.
The proposed rule approved by the board, whose members are appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, directs boards of trustees for 28 public community and state colleges that are part of the state’s college system — which is separate from the state’s university system — to update their codes of conduct by April 1, 2024.
As part of updating those codes of conduct, institutions must clarify that on-campus restrooms or changing facilities are “designated for exclusive use by males or females” based on sex assigned at birth. Schools may opt to offer unisex restrooms, and must indicate if one is available, but are not required to offer any alternative options.
The rule is intended to align with a measure approved by Florida lawmakers and signed into law by DeSantis in May requiring individuals to use bathrooms in public buildings — including correctional institutions, detention centers, jails, educational facilities, on-campus housing facilities, and buildings owned or leased by the state and local governments — that are designated for either males or females, based on assumptions about a person’s biological anatomy, based on their assigned sex at birth.
Students who violate the code of conduct by using gender-affirming restrooms will be subject to punishment based on individual institutions’ penalties, as outlined in their student handbooks.
The State Board of Education’s approved rule does not detail or enumerate the kinds of penalties students will face, instead leaving disciplinary procedures up to individual institutions and the whims of overzealous administrators. However, it should be noted that the threat of suspension and even potential expulsion are typically used to punish students for infractions of college codes of conduct.
Employees of colleges who use restrooms that don’t align with their sex assigned at birth, despite being asked to leave, may face verbal and written warnings, suspension without pay and possible termination. Each alleged instance of wrongful restroom use must be investigated, and colleges and universities will institute a procedure for investigating
“The disciplinary action taken should be based on the specific circumstances of the offense,” the rule states, “however, a second documented offense must result in a termination.”
Most speakers during a public comment period at Wednesday’s state board meeting said they opposed the rule, arguing it would alienate and further harm members of the transgender community.
One mother said her teenage transgender child, who will graduate from high school next year, has opted not to apply to any colleges in Florida because of fears that the state’s restroom law and other legislation targeting transgender visibility has made them fearful for their life.
“It’s a brand new level of fear and intimidation that ultimately has one goal, and that is to root transgender people out of the Florida College System,” former State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) who serves as a policy advisor for Equality Florida, told The Hill. “It is death by a million cuts, where you just created such a toxic and hostile environment for trans people in our state that they no longer are going to want to call Florida home. They’re just going to leave.”
Charles Suor, a graduate assistant, student, and member of the Trans+ Student Union at the University of South Florida, told NPR affiliate WUSF that the rule will limit which facilities he, as a trans man, can use on campus. He noted that even using restrooms designated for “females” may prove problematic, as he is likely to be reported to school authorities and potentially disciplined — despite the fact that he would be abiding by the rule — for his masculine appearance.
“If I, as myself, were to walk into the woman’s restroom…the amount of backlash I would get would be alarming,” Suor said. “Like I feel like there would be problems there. Something that a lot of people don’t think about because they’re so worried about this fictionalized predatory trans woman.”
Suor also noted that there’s already a limit at USF on how many gender-neutral or single-stall unisex restrooms are on campus, meaning transgender students and employees who wish to avoid uproar may have to go out of their way to find one on a different floor or in an entirely different building on campus.
“I’m worried that if people, someone sees me using the men’s bathroom, and they know that I’m trans, because I’m openly trans, [if] they report me, I could lose my job,” he said.
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