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Florida lawmaker compares trans people to ‘mutants,’ calls them demons and imps

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House could be poised to take up a bill that seeks to prevent transgender men and women from using bathrooms that don’t line up with their sex assigned at birth after one Republican said Monday it’s “like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth.”

“We have people that live among us today on planet Earth that are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet,” Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, said before the House Commerce Committee approved the bill.

“This is the planet Earth where God created men male and women female. I’m a proud Christian conservative Republican. I’m not on the fence, not on the fence.”

Barnaby’s comments came after transgender people testified against the bill. He called them “demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world. So, I’m saying my righteous indignation is stirred. I am sick and tired of this. I’m not going to put up with it. You can test me and try to take me on. But I promise you I’ll win every time.”

Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, followed Barnaby and was clearly taken aback by his comments. She addressed the transgender people who spoke, pointing to their “bravery.”

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“Also to tell that I see you, hear you, understand and love you,” Arrington said. “Definitely, I’m still a little bit thrown off from the last comments here and just really want to let you all know that there are many here that understand and support you.”

Rep. Chase Tramont, a Port Orange Republican who supported the bill, appeared to try to distance himself from Barnaby’s comments.

“I’m also a Christian man, and I just want to say to some of the folks in here who shared their testimony, I appreciated you coming up. You’re not an evil being. I believe that you’re fearfully and wonderfully made,” Tramont said. “And I want you to live your life as well. There’s no easy way to go about addressing legislation. There’s no easy way to make everybody happy on all sides. There just isn’t.”

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Committee Chairman Bob Rommel, R-Naples, followed by also thanking the people who spoke.

“I know it’s one of those sensitive issues, and sometimes we have to make a difficult decision,” he said.

Later, Barnaby apologized for describing transgender people as “demons.”

The bill (HB 1521) is one of a series of proposals that Republicans are moving through the Legislature that focus on transgender people. The Senate last week passed a bill that would prevent doctors from providing treatment such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers to transgender minors. The Senate could pass a bill Tuesday that seeks to prevent children from going to drag shows.

The House bill would require that a wide range of businesses, healthcare facilities and educational institutions have a “restroom designated for exclusive use by females and a restroom designated for exclusive use by males.” It also would allow unisex restrooms.

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The bill would define a female as “a person belonging, at birth to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing eggs.” It would define a male as “a person belonging, at birth to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing sperm.”

Supporters of the bill said it would help protect women and girls in restrooms. Sponsor Rachel Plakon, R-Lake Mary, described the bill as “common sense.”

“This bill is about common decency standards in private spaces,” Plakon told committee members. “And I encourage you all to vote up on this important bill today to ensure safety for all, especially women and girls.”

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But opponents said the bill, which could lead to misdemeanor charges for people who violate it, would be impossible to enforce. Also, they said it would lead to discrimination and harassment against transgender people.

“There’s nothing that stops this bill from being used as a tool of harassment,” Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for the LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, said. “There are no standards for reasonableness here. It is an unworkable invasion of privacy that will not make people more safe.”

With Monday’s approval by the Commerce Committee, the bill is ready to go to the full House. The Senate version (SB 1674) needs approval from the Fiscal Policy Committee before it could go to the full Senate.

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