Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed one of the most draconian bathroom bills in the country into law on Wednesday, subjecting anyone in the state over the age of 18 to criminal trespassing charges if they don’t use the public bathroom that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
The new law, which DeSantis signed just weeks before he is widely expected to announce his 2024 presidential run, applies to government buildings, schools, colleges and detention centers. A previous draft had included private businesses such as restaurants and gas stations.
“This is heavy-handed government interference into the most private aspect of our lives,” Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told HuffPost.
The new law says someone can be charged if they don’t leave a bathroom when another person asks them to, meaning it allows anyone to police who belongs in which bathroom — a dangerous prospect in a country beset by gun violence and vigilantism.
Advocates say the law is written in a confusing and vague way, and they are concerned about how it will be enforced. It’s unclear what steps need to be taken in order to charge someone with criminal trespassing after they are asked to depart a bathroom. “There’s no good way to enforce the law without invading everyone’s privacy,” Gross said.
“It feels as though the law is unenforceable and instead deputizes extremists to harass people in the bathroom,” said Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Florida. “You have a heavily-armed populace who has been whipped into hysteria and now you’ve told them to go confront people in the bathroom.”
“It feels as though the law is unenforceable and instead deputizes extremists to harass people in the bathroom.”
Anyone who uses a public restroom could be targeted if they don’t ascribe to traditional modes of gender expression, advocates say. “The intention is to empower and embolden bigots to stand watch in the bathroom and decide who they don’t think [is] feminine enough for the women’s restroom or masculine enough for the men’s,” Wolf said.
Florida’s bathroom law mirrors North Carolina’s H.B. 2, which Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed in 2016. The state faced widespread backlash and boycotts after the law went into effect, including from the NBA, which relocated its All-Star Game in response. McCrory lost his reelection bid to Democrat Roy Cooper, who campaigned against H.B. 2, and the law was repealed the following year.
But a dizzying array of anti-LGBTQ bills have been passed in GOP-controlled state legislatures since North Carolina’s bathroom bill, including those that ban gender-affirming care for trans youth and prohibit transgender children from playing sports at school.
In the last few weeks in Florida alone, the legislature has passed its own ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, as well as a measure that expands the “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts what educators can say about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom.