Why Are Transgender College Students Leaving Florida?

Floridians describe the state's legislation as very unwelcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, driving away thousands.
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Gillian Manning
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Gillian Manning serves on a volunteer-basis for the Society of Professional Journalists, assisting with educational and fundraising initiatives. She is a freelance writer with a BA in multimedia journalism from Florida Atlantic University. She’s writ...
Published on September 8, 2023
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Hate crimes in the U.S. increased by 11.6% between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Florida's growing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation likely aren't helping.

After Florida passed the “Don't Say Gay” law in 2022, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments on social media increased by 406%, according to University of California, Los Angeles' Williams Institute. The transgender community has been a major subject of that conversation. From bathrooms to essential medical care, legislation has touched intimate areas in the lives of transgender Floridians.

Intelligent, an education research group, found that 1 in 8 Florida high school students won't attend a state university because of Gov. Ron DeSantis' policies, and many current college students plan to transfer out. Of those who will stay in the state, 78% are worried the policies will negatively impact their education.

Our legislation is very unwelcoming. Every Floridian deserves to feel healthy, safe, and prosperous. [The legislation] is creating fear for this community, Florida Rep. Robin Bartleman told BestColleges.

Laws on Bathroom Use

It's illegal for transgender Floridians to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity in government-owned facilities. Violations can result in misdemeanor charges for trespassing.

Just as the 2023-2024 school year began, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) expanded that law to the state's postsecondary institutions. It now makes schools fire trans employees who use bathrooms aligning with their gender identity and mandates discipline for trans students who do the same. College and university staff who break the rule also risk losing their certificates.

The law restricts which bathrooms high school students can use as well. The facilities they use must align with their sex assigned at birth or be unisex. But not every school has unisex restrooms, and if they do, there aren't many.

As a result, some students wait to use the restroom until they leave campus. Not only is the stress impactful on their mental well-being, it can also hurt their physical health.

Nikole Parker, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida, explained that the stress students feel has shifted from their tests and studies to their safety.

If you were to take out the trans part of it, and you were to say kids feel like they need to hold going to the restroom because they don't feel safe, there would be widespread outrage, Parker told BestColleges. But because there's trans kids put on top of it, people just turn a blind eye to it. It's simply not fair.

Florida's bathroom laws also apply to college dormitories. But unlike K-12 students, many college students in student housing don't even have a home to go to at the end of the day where they can use a restroom they're comfortable with.

Banning Diversity in Education

Just before the start of the 2023-2024 school year, high schools were in a frenzy after the FDOE stated AP Psychology could not be taught in its entirety due to topics of gender identity and sexual orientation.

When you have the Department of Education questioning an Advanced Placement psychology course, that's a huge problem. They're trying to erase a group of people, Bartleman said.

LGBTQ+ erasure doesn't end in K-12 schools. DeSantis signed Senate Bill 266, which bars public universities and colleges from funding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Many Florida institutions had DEI offices, typically dedicated to creating diverse programs, workshops and seminars, events, and support services.

Nic Zantop, deputy director of Transinclusive Group, explained that LGBTQ+ students benefit from having safe spaces and the opportunity to be authentic and celebrate their communities. That level of representation is something students pay attention to while in, or looking at, schools.

That's a very powerful thing and removing that from campuses — it's dangerous, it's very dangerous, Zantop told BestColleges. You may feel that you don't belong in that place. And specifically, not only do you not see that representation, but you know that that representation has been intentionally taken away.

Florida is ranked highly for its universities and colleges. Legislation aimed at the LGBTQ+ community could risk that reputation. House Bill 999 forbids public postsecondary institutions from offering majors or minors in queer theory, critical race theory, radical gender theory, intersectionality, and more.

It's appealing to a certain base, and certain groups of people — that's the motivation. We have really great higher education institutions, and now with the policies we recently passed, professors don't want to teach here. Students don't want to attend college here. House Bill 999 really did damage to our university system, Bartleman said. I feel like we're going backward in time.

Transgender Students Denied Gender-Affirming Care

Florida's growing list of LGBTQ-targeted legislation affects trans students outside of their education. In May 2023, DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care to minors.

Older teens, with consultations and agreement between medical professionals and parents, have been able to start puberty blockers in the past. But that's no longer an option for Floridians.

Healthcare is simply what that is, and that's healthcare. When we see politics be put before public health, it has catastrophic effects, Parker told BestColleges.

The American Psychological Association reported that immediately after the gender-affirming care ban was signed, one clinical psychologist in Tampa had to hospitalize eight trans teenagers in about two months. The Trevor Project surveyed 28,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13-24. About 1 in 3 told surveyors their mental health is poor most or all of the time because of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The consequences of the state's laws, such as poor health or inaccessible healthcare, are pushing trans Floridians away. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Florida's healthcare laws have led 8 in 10 trans and nonbinary adults to want to move or start taking steps to move out of the state because of its stance on gender-affirming care.

With all of these attacks on our trans community, Florida increasingly feels like a place that is unsafe, Zantop said. I think it's natural that a lot of people are questioning, If I don't feel safe, if I don't feel supported, if I don't feel included, is this the best place for me?

It Doesn't End in Adulthood

As of now, barriers don't disappear once you turn 18. Medical professionals in Florida can deny anyone care for any reason if they have a moral objection. And the same law that bans gender-affirming care for minors also requires adults to go through extra, and sometimes costly, steps to receive care.

Florida created separate informed consent forms for trans men and trans women. Informed consent in medicine is essential. However, informed consent forms are generally frowned upon.

Research published in the National Library of Medicine concluded that the forms are often written in a way that's too complex for the average patient and risk information is often subjectively interpreted.

The American Civil Liberties Union stated that the state's forms include disinformation about the risks of gender-affirming care.

Florida's forms state that research about gender-affirming care is poor quality. Researchers at Yale University slam the state's 2022 Florida Medicaid Report about medical treatment for gender dysphoria. They stated the report blatantly violates the basic tenets of scientific inquiry. Plenty of professional medical associations describe gender-affirming care as beneficial and even essential — often for minors, too.

Bartleman confirmed to BestColleges that medical professionals were not consulted in the creation of Florida's gender-affirming care bill.

Consent forms are taxing, but free. The additional care Florida requires isn't.

Initially, Florida prohibited Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care. A U.S. District Court judge struck it down in June for being unconstitutional.

However, Florida law still requires patients to work consistently with mental health professionals while receiving care. Mandatory psychological treatment can be an unwelcome expense on top of gender-affirming care, depending on a patient's insurance, if they have any.

As stated by the bill, individuals seeking gender-affirming care can only do so through in-person visits. Telehealth is not a legal option for transitioning Floridians. Many individuals struggle to get time off from work or don't have reliable transportation, making in-person visits difficult.

Florida has a major prerequisite to even be considered for treatment.

Patients must be officially diagnosed for gender dysphoria based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' criteria. While this isn't a barrier for everyone, the American Psychological Association reports that not every transgender individual has gender dysphoria.

It is important to know that medical decisions should always stay between the provider, the parent, and the child. So regardless of if someone understands it or not, it's not for you to say, Parker said.

It's very hard to constantly have to scream and remind people that we're human because that's what the rhetoric does. It tries to dehumanize us and after a while, after screaming, I'm a human being for so long, it does get to you.