Florida Legislator Faces Backlash for Calling Transgender Witnesses 'Demons and Imps'
Written by: Sam Orlando
TALLAHASSEE, FL — A Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Deltona), has come under fire and apologized for referring to transgender Floridians as "demons and imps" and comparing them to "mutants from another planet" during a committee hearing on Monday.
The hearing focused on a proposed bill that would prevent individuals from using bathrooms designated for the opposite sex. Several transgender Floridians and parents of transgender children had spoken out against the bill during the hearing, prompting Rep. Barnaby's outburst.
"The Lord rebuke you, Satan, and all of your demons and all of your imps who come parade before us," Barnaby said. "That's right, I called you demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world."
Rep. Barnaby also compared the transgender speakers to the X-Men, characters from Marvel comic books where bigotry, hatred, and fear of mutants are central themes.
The remarks stunned lawmakers, and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rachel Lora Saunders Plakon (R-Lake Mary), quickly attempted to distance herself from Barnaby's comments, stating that public input on bills is valuable.
Shortly after his initial comments, Rep. Barnaby apologized to the transgender community. "I would like to apologize to the trans community for referring to you as demons," he said. Committee chairperson, Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Naples), responded with appreciation before moving on to another bill.
The bill in question, HB 1521, outlines a narrow set of circumstances under which someone can enter a bathroom designated for the opposite sex. In other cases, individuals 18 or older who refuse to leave a restroom designated for the opposite sex when asked could be charged with a misdemeanor. The legislation also includes provisions for school disciplinary procedures, inmate housing based on biological sex, and requirements for maintaining separate restrooms in specific locations such as hotels, restaurants, health care facilities, and schools.
Critics of the bill argue that it discriminates against transgender individuals and runs counter to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates that housing determinations be made on a case-by-case basis.
Opponents of the bill also raised concerns about the impact the legislation may have on transgender children and students, who would be forced to comply with the proposed rules. Such policies could potentially increase the likelihood of discrimination and bullying faced by transgender students, further marginalizing an already vulnerable group.
In addition to the issues raised by opponents, HB 1521 may also create complications for businesses and institutions required to maintain separate restrooms and changing rooms based on the proposed definitions of male and female. The bill states that businesses and institutions would need to submit documentation attesting to their compliance with these requirements in order to obtain necessary licenses.
Despite Rep. Barnaby's apology, his remarks during the committee hearing have sparked outrage and concern among transgender advocates and allies. It remains to be seen how the controversy surrounding his comments and the proposed legislation will impact the ongoing debate on transgender rights in Florida and nationwide.
As the legislative process continues, it is essential for lawmakers and the public to remain engaged in discussions and debates surrounding the rights and protections of transgender individuals. Only through thoughtful and respectful dialogue can a fair and just outcome be achieved for all members of society.