June 9, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — A Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives called transgender Floridians “demons and imps” and compared them to “mutants from another planet” during a committee hearing on Monday.

During a debate over a bill that would prevent people from using bathrooms “designated for the opposite sex,” Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, lashed out against the several transgender Floridians who spoke out against the bill.

“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.”

He compared the speakers, who included transgender Floridians and parents of transgender children, to the X-Men, characters from the Marvel comic books in which bigotry, hatred and fear of mutants are central themes.

“I’m looking at society today and it’s like I’m watching an ‘X-Men’ movie,” Barnaby said. “When you watch the ‘X-Men’ movies or Marvel comics, it’s like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth.”

“This is the planet Earth,” Barnaby continued, his voice rising, “where God created men male and women female. I’m a proud Christian, conservative Republican.”

Barnaby added, “I’m sick and tired of this. I’m not going to put up with it. You can test me and try to take me on. I promise you, I’ll win every time.”

The comments appeared to stun lawmakers. The bill sponsor, Rep. Rachel Lora Saunders Plakon, R-Lake Mary, tried to distance herself from the comments, saying she felt it was valuable for the public to speak on bills.

A few minutes later, after the committee had already moved on to another bill, Barnaby apologized.

“I would like to apologize to the trans community for referring to you as demons,” Barnaby said.

“Thank you, and we appreciate that,” the committee chairperson, Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, replied before moving on to another bill.

Barnaby’s comments came after several transgender Floridians and parents of transgender children spoke out against HB 1521.

The bill creates a narrow list of circumstances under which someone can enter a bathroom “designated for the opposite sex,” including to accompany a child or disabled person to the bathroom, to render emergency assistance or if the “appropriate designated” restroom is out of order and no one is in the other one.

In any other circumstance, a person 18 or older who enters a bathroom or changing room for the opposite sex can be charged with a misdemeanor if someone asks them to leave the restroom and they refuse to do so.

The bill defines female as a person who, at birth, had the “reproductive role of producing eggs” and defines male as a person who, at birth, has the “reproductive role of producing sperm.”

The bill also says schools will set their own disciplinary procedures for children who enter a restroom for the opposite sex and refuse to leave when asked.

The legislation also requires that inmates be housed based on biological sex, which runs counter to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which deems that housing determinations be made on a case-by-case basis.

The bill also requires that a number of locations, like hotels, restaurants, health care facilities and schools, maintain separate male and female restrooms or single-stall unisex bathrooms.

If those entities need a license to operate, they have to submit documentation attesting that they’re maintaining separate restrooms and changing rooms in order to get their license.

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