Some LGBTQ+ Santa Fe College attendees fear discrimination after a law prohibiting people from using public bathrooms of their non-assigned sex can now result in firing.
Gov. Ron DeSantis approved harsher penalties Aug. 23 for college faculty and staff who defy HB 1521 passed in May, commonly known as the bathroom law.
With the stricter penalties, Florida college employees can be fired or disciplined if they use a bathroom that does not correspond with their assigned sex at birth twice. The law already requires faculty to discipline students that break the regulations.
Zhamia Richardson, a 19-year-old SFC theatre junior, knew about the law since the day it passed. It, along with similar bills signed in the latest legislative session, greatly upset her, she said.
“I was both enraged and heartbroken for my queer brothers and sisters being prosecuted for something as silly as which bathroom they feel more comfortable in,” Richardson said. “I feel HB 1521 and other legislation like it are simply desperate ploys to erase queer people’s identity.”
The new penalties were unanimously voted on by the Florida State Board of Education.
The Florida College System, which these penalties directly affect, includes SFC and other community colleges across the state. UF and other major universities are unaffected by these changes.
Before the law was implemented, students and staff said SFC has served as a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students.
Ryan Lund, an 18-year-old SFC dual-enrollment student, works at the campus bookstore and found the college to be very inclusive.
“The library makes pins for students to just grab and many times they have been pride themed,” Lund said. “The professors tend to ask for preferred pronouns in the beginning with an assignment so you don’t have to out yourself in front of the class.”
Lund found the bathroom law and its new penalties shocking. The state legislation’s fixation on topics such as this is bewildering, he said.
“The fact that [a] staff member’s job security is at risk for something so unharmful and non-threatening is absurd, and the focus in legislation on these bathroom bills is uncalled for,” he said. “Especially because this is affecting colleges now and not just lower levels of education. To go after college adults with this is incredible.”
For many transgender students, using the bathroom that matches their gender identity is affirming, Lund said.
However, even without the law in place, Lund has been wary of using the preferred restroom, which has always held the risk of violence or harassment for him and others in the same situation, he said.
“This bill just gives transphobes more power and backing so that they can harass trans people without fear of legal consequence on their end,” Lund said. “Which is even more terrifying for the trans people being targeted.”
JoJo Sacks, 26, worked as a coordinator for SFC’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center for just under two years. Sacks noted the law will be written into SFC’s conduct code and will rely on students to report cases of anyone breaking the law.
“Instead of it being enforced by the police arm of Santa Fe, it will be enforced by the court of law and the Conduct Committee, who decide other issues like plagiarism or sexual harassment,” they said.
The nature of the law and its enforcement is violating, Sacks said.
“[The bathroom] is an intimate space where we like to hide our own business,” they said. “It’s creating public conversation about something that’s quite private for a lot of people.”
Not allowing transgender people to use the bathroom they are comfortable in can also cause physical harm, Sacks said.
“If you don’t go to the bathroom when you have to go, you can get a kidney infection or a bladder infection,” they said. “If people are not feeling safe enough to use the bathroom, it will have literal physical effects on them.”
The law also leaves out intersex people, Sacks said.
“Lots of people who might have certain anatomy and might not have certain anatomy are left out of this conversation, many of whom may or may not identify as part of the queer community,” they said. “There’s a very interesting necessity to associate biology with a bathroom facility that really feels outdated and it feels alienating.”
Tamára Perry-Lunardo has served as the president of the Pride Center of North Central Florida since 2020 and been involved with the center since 2018. The PCCNCF is a non-profit organization that provides services and hosts events to enhance the well-being and visibility of LGBTQ+ people in the local area, she said.
Perry-Lunardo said that the law reminds her of the Johns’ Committee, a Florida legislative committee established in 1956 that targeted LGBTQ+ people and forced students and faculty to resign.
“When we bury the wrongs of history — and when we don’t loudly, unequivocally condemn their damage — this is where we end up,” she said. “Harming a new generation in old, insidious ways.”
Perry-Lunardo is also concerned about how the law and similar legislation affects Florida’s higher education system as a whole.
“It is driving bright minds out of our state higher education system,” she said. “It continues the erosion of our standing as a free state.”
Richardson predicts that SFC students and faculty alike will combat the law, even with these new penalties.
“I expect outrage from queer students and faculty and allies,” she said. “I would also expect to see some faculty fired or resigning for refusing to participate in this hateful legislation.”
With this bathroom law and similar legislation in place, Richardson believes people can be allies to LGBTQ+ people by listening to them and providing support.
“The best way to support queer people is to simply ask your queer friends [and] family how to best support them,” she said. “But beyond that, just be patient with your queer friends as they are adjusting to this new legislation.”
The Civic Media Center, TranQuility, Equality Florida, and Unspoken Treasure Society are all local organizations that Sacks and Perry-Lunardo recommend for sources of information regarding this law and similar issues.
Contact Bailey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BaileyDiem.
Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major at UF and is the Santa Fe Reporter for The Alligator for Fall 2023. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.