Florida state Rep. Frank Artiles is not worried a bill he introduced last week will create problems for transgender people, he told BuzzFeed News, because using the restroom is a choice.
The Miami Republican's bill would restrict single-sex public facilities — including restrooms in restaurants, theaters, workplaces, and schools — to people of the corresponding “biological sex, either male or female, at birth.” Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
Asked if such a rule would create problems for transgender women required to use the men’s room, Artiles told BuzzFeed News, “People are not forced to go the restroom. They choose to go to the restroom."
"While I understand there are transgender people who want to use bathrooms however they want to feel, that is irrelevant to me,” Artiles explained. He said gender identity was "subjective" and the birth sex of a transgender person is the only factor that should dictate which restroom they use.
“It’s their plumbing that determines where they go to the bathroom," Artiles said. Asked to clarify, he added, "Their anatomy is going to dictate where they go to the bathroom."
Artiles said that his bill is designed to promote public safety by banning male sexual predators who claim to be women from prowling ladies’ restrooms. But two Florida lawmakers and an LGBT advocate told BuzzFeed News that the public-safety threat is a red herring and, instead, the bill exists to discriminate against transgender people.
“I believe this bill is totally filed to target a community — to make their lives more difficult, be divisive, and cause them harm,” Rep. David Richardson, Florida’s only out LGBT state lawmaker, told BuzzFeed News. He said the public safety claims are “outrageous” and called the bill a “political statement.”
"It is not a public safety matter," said Rep. Janet Cruz, another Democrat. “The bill fosters bullying and breeds hatred," she said, adding that it was "an attack on humanity."
Artiles countered his wish is “not to attack transgender people or make their lives difficult." However, he said several times, the bill was a direct response to local laws in Florida that ban discrimination against transgender people. Specifically, he said, a law passed in December in Miami-Dade County, which encompasses Artiles' district, "gives the cover of law for people who use this as a loophole for voyeurism and other criminal activity. While I understand the good intention, it is overly broad."
"You have sexual predators — you have people who are going to use these local ordinances as cover," said Artiles. "I want uniformity acorss the board, and not laws subjective to the way people feel." Artiles' bill would override all such local laws.
Artiles insisted there is evidence that local transgender anti-discrimination laws have resulted in public-safety threats in restrooms, and he said there was an example Miami-Dade County. However, he declined to cite an example for BuzzFeed News, saying his staff would email that information on Feb. 6. At the time this story was published, neither Artiles nor his staff provided any example of such a problem.
"I'd be curious if you found any evidence of that," Richardson said. He said LGBT advocates and others he has spoken to have found zero examples of local anti-discrimination laws in Florida being used by predators to prowl restrooms.
Ironically, Rep. Richardson said, the bill could create a new public-safety problem for kids. For example, a father could not take his daughter into the restroom with him, he said. "Parents with small children should be concerned about sending their tiny children into a public bathroom by themselves."
The bill would also allow transgender men into women's rooms. "If this bill were passed, you’d have women who look like women going into the men's room, and you'd have men who look like men going into the women’s room," Jim Harper, a spokesperson for Equality Florida, told BuzzFeed News.
"I think the representative shows a profound misunderstanding of who transgender people are," Harper said, "It’s a mean-spirited solution to a non-existent problem."
Artiles said he does not believe transgender people themselves pose a threat in restrooms, but, rather, that anti-discrimination laws allow criminals into restrooms under the pretense of being transgender. "The whole purpose of the bill is the safety of the general public, not people of a specific gender," said Artiles.
He added that he open to amendments to the bill and hearing form constituents. "I am here to work with everyone, but my number-one concern is public safety."
"I have read the blogs that say I am against transgender people, but I am not at all," Artiles said. Asked if he believes a transgender woman is a woman, Artiles said, "I am not going to get into that. I have not spent much time thinking about that."