Florida Board of Governors Says It Will Move Forward With Anti-Trans Bathroom Policy for Universities

After a vote, the board publicly announced its intent to apply the “Safety in Private Spaces Act” to Florida's state universities.
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Published on October 3, 2023
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  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Safety in Private Spaces Act” in May. This banned individuals from using bathrooms in government-owned buildings that don't reflect their sex assigned at birth.
  • The Florida Department of Education has officially applied that bill to K-12 schools and Florida's state colleges.
  • In September, the Florida Board of Governors announced that it plans to apply the policy to Florida's state universities.
  • Critics of the bill are concerned the policy will harm transgender and nonbinary individuals without reducing crime.

In the past year, Florida has criminalized the use of bathrooms in government-owned buildings that don't align with a person's sex assigned at birth. The legislation was signed into law in May by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It includes Florida's K-12 schools and its 28 state colleges. The “Safety in Private Spaces Act” will most likely extend to Florida's 12 state universities.

On Sept. 20, the Florida Board of Governors (FBOG), which oversees Florida's state university system, publicly announced its intention to vote in favor of adopting the policy this November. The board is legally required to implement the policy due to its statewide jurisdiction.

Adopting the policy would mean it has officially reached every corner of Florida's education system.

The Next Step: A Vote

If the FBOG votes to adopt the regulation, universities will have to certify their compliance by April 2024. The FBOG is required to share the procedures universities must follow no later than Jan. 1, 2024.

The law makes it a misdemeanor for an individual to use a state-owned bathroom that doesn't align with their sex assigned at birth. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) applied this bathroom policy to Florida's state colleges in September.

During the FBOG's September meeting, member Amanda Phalin, the sole dissenter of the FBOG's public notice to adopt, expressed her concerns about the regulation and its potential consequences.

I'm aware that state law requires us, the Board of Governors, to pass this regulation. However, I believe it's also my duty to point out that in places where similar laws have been implemented, there has been an increase in harassment of people who are using or attempting to use the restroom, Phalin said in the meeting.

I do recommend that the Board of Governors direct institutions to keep and report data on any instances of harassment that may occur going forward.

FBOG member Charles Lydecker said he would be interested in hearing more about her concerns in the future.

'A Lot of Vagueness'

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a nonprofit think tank, noted in its research that the Safety in Private Spaces Act presents an issue: How do people prove whether or not they're using the appropriate bathroom?

While verifying with a birth certificate is possible, individuals are able to legally change their sex on their birth certificate in every state except Montana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In fact, 21% of transgender people have been able to update all of their documents to reflect their gender identity, according to the MAP report.

Chloe Boggs, president of the youth chapter of Women's Voices of Southwest Florida, told BestColleges, How are they going to make this go into effect? How are you going to determine whether someone's not in the right bathroom? What happens to androgynous-looking people ... There's a lot of vagueness that they purposely leave in there with these policies.

While colleges are required to fire staff members after violating the bathroom bans a second time, they have more freedom in their disciplinary policies for students.

Universities will likely have to create their own disciplinary procedures as well. It's unclear what those policies will look like until they're submitted in the spring.

Experts Say Policy Could Increase Harassment

Phalin directed BestColleges to research from experts at several renowned schools including Harvard Medical School. They found that transgender youths are far more likely to be assaulted in private areas when bathroom and locker room restrictions are in place.

Researchers concluded that during the 12-month study period, 26.5% of transgender boys and 18.5% of transgender girls were sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, MAP's research found all the states with laws protecting against transgender discrimination in public accommodations have not seen any increase in criminal behavior in bathrooms.

It's terrible what we're doing, Florida Rep. Robin Bartleman told BestColleges. Children should feel safe. Adults should feel safe. This is just encouraging hate and empowering homophobic people.

Not only do rules like the bathroom bans increase cases of sexual harassment against trans and nonbinary individuals, they can also embolden citizen vigilantes, according to the MAP report.

MAP presented several statements from various public figures, including sheriffs. One statement listed was from the president of the Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty organization. President Anita Staver's comment reads, I'm taking a Glock .45 to the ladies room. It identifies as my bodyguard.

MAP notes that rhetoric like this and bathroom bans don't just hurt trans and nonbinary people. Policies on bathroom use also affect individuals who may not dress stereotypically male or female.

One example of this in the MAP report comes from Texas. A man followed a woman into a hospital bathroom because she was dressed like a man. She was reportedly wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt.

Boggs said there are always going to be those who don't like trans people, and these laws are definitely encouraging that, encouraging so much transphobic. [False reports are] definitely going to happen. Corrupt people get more corrupt. Transphobic people get more transphobic.