Florida To Implement Anti-Trans Bathroom Policy in Private Colleges and Universities

The state continues to be the main U.S. proponent of bathroom laws against transgender and nonbinary individuals.
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Published on November 2, 2023
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  • Private colleges and universities in Florida will be subject to the state's expanding bathroom bans.
  • The anti-transgender legislation initially covered state-owned buildings and facilities, not private institutions.
  • Florida is the only state to apply bathroom bans to private educational institutions.
  • These institutions will have to submit their compliance forms by April 1, 2024.

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) voted to expand the Safety in Private Spaces Act even further. The sex-based bathroom bans will now apply to private colleges and universities as well — not just those owned by the state.

The Safety in Private Spaces Act (HB 1521) mandates that all government-owned buildings — including K-12 schools, postsecondary institutions, and prisons — that offer bathrooms or changing rooms must have designated male and female facilities.

By April 2024, private postsecondary institutions will have to submit compliance forms that demonstrate they have disciplinary policies in place for individuals who use restrooms on campus that don't align with their sex-assigned-at-birth.

Public colleges must fire transgender teachers who use a bathroom that doesn't align with their birth-assigned sex after the second offense. Outside of that, they're free to create their own disciplinary procedures.

Including Florida, nine states currently have laws prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that align with their gender identities in K-12 schools. North Dakota is the only state besides Florida that applies this rule to some government-owned buildings as well.

Florida is currently the only state to go as far as applying this rule to private schools, state colleges, and all government-owned buildings and spaces.

Floridians Are Ready to Leave

The conversation during the FDOE's Oct. 18 meeting before voting was brief and concluded with two public commenters who came to share their thoughts with the board.

The FDOE's time spent on the issue lasted five minutes. This contrasts with many other FDOE meetings that included votes on HB 1521, where about a dozen Florida residents expressed their support or their opposition to bathroom bans targeted at transgender and nonbinary students.

Florida's inundation of LGBTQ-targeted laws has parents and students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, ready to leave the state altogether — let alone fight for it. About 40% of parents in Florida want to leave but haven't due to employment or financial issues, according to research from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and Clark University.

Concerns are often related to student safety and the harmful rhetoric rules like “Safety in Private Places” and “Don't Say Gay” can create. Safety concerns are both physical and mental, with one being healthy bathroom habits.

Those who oppose bathroom bans are concerned for transgender and nonbinary students who either won't have easy access to a unisex bathroom or are fearful of being singled out by peers over their bathroom use.

Not Enough Bathrooms to Go Around

In an August FDOE meeting, Florida activist Helen Back noted that teachers in K-12 schools are already seeing issues since bathroom bans became enforceable in the 2023-2024 school year.

We had this rule that came up real quick, July 1, and we needed to implement it right away. Students are in school now and there's not enough bathrooms for what the new rules are, Back said. Now we're seeing students have nowhere to urinate or defecate. They're holding their urine all day.

HB 1521 mandates that schools with changing facilities and bathrooms must separate those based on sex-assigned-at-birth and also provide a minimum of one unisex restroom. While institutions have the right to provide additional unisex bathrooms, there's no incentive for them to create any more to accommodate the influx of students who can no longer use their preferred restroom.

A local resident and parent was one of the two people who stood at the podium during the October meeting's public comment section — and the only one to express concern.

The rule specifies a unisex restroom. I want to mention that colleges have more than one student and this is not proportionate ... In public schools at least, the unisex restroom is a teacher's restroom. So we have a situation whereby all the nonbinary, and transgender, and the teachers all line up for this unisex bathroom, the loan concerned commenter explained. They need more than one bathroom.

Bathroom Bans Negatively Impact Citizens, Report Says

In 2016, North Carolina was the first state to implement a bathroom ban bill that required individuals to only use public restrooms that align with the sex listed on their birth certificate. While the law was repealed a year later, it provided enough time for researchers to note the effects such a bill can have. The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) has kept tabs on what happened in North Carolina.

Because bathroom ban laws require citizens to prove their sex, they are impossible to enforce unless the government is willing to engage in aggressive and invasive policing of its citizens' use of restrooms, MAP reports. These laws also leave transgender people even more vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Nearly 60% of transgender people have avoided using public bathrooms out of fear, and many have already been harassed in public restrooms, according to the MAP report.

The Details Yet to Come

The legislation doesn't specify whether each building belonging to an institution must feature a unisex bathroom, just that there must be one somewhere on location.

The Safety in Private Spaces Act applies to public areas on postsecondary school campuses. It will also apply to bathrooms in dormitories. Without specific requirements, students may not have a unisex bathroom in their dorms, leaving them with no place to comfortably use the bathroom or even take care of hygiene.

Colleges and universities have some time to create their own disciplinary policies before submitting their compliance forms in April 2024. Until their policies are finalized, penalties for students and staff at private postsecondary institutions aren't clear. Once institutions have their disciplinary policies sorted, they have to update their student and staff handbooks so that the rules can be enforced.

By July 1, 2024, individuals are able to file a complaint with the state attorney general alleging that a college or university is not complying with the law.