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Florida Passes Bill That Allows for “Legal Kidnapping” of Transgender Children

The bill would allow courts to intervene in custody disputes and remove trans children from gender-affirming parents.

A group of attendees listen to a speaker during the #ProtectTransKids rally outside Orlando City Hall on June 1, 2021, in Orlando, Florida.

The Florida House of Representatives has approved a bill that would allow state courts to intervene in custody disputes and remove transgender children who are receiving gender-affirming care from supportive families with whom they live. In extreme circumstances, legal experts say this may even “involve the state taking physical custody of a child.”

SB 254 would classify gender-affirming care for transgender youth as a form of “serious physical harm,” which could be cited during a custody enforcement hearing to allow unsupportive parents to take “physical custody of [the] child.” The amended bill, which originally passed on April 4 by a vote of 27 to 12, now returns to the Senate.

“This law ensures death … It violates my parental rights,” said Eimear Roy Mulcahy, who is a parent of a trans child speaking to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The vote comes as the Florida legislature has also recently passed two other anti-LGTBQ bills — one targeting LGBTQ friendly businesses and one prohibiting gender-inclusive bathrooms.

“It is shameful that our Florida Legislature continues to pass dangerous bills designed to silence, harm, and erase trans people in Florida,” Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU in Florida, said in a statement. “These bills directly threaten transgender Floridians’ fundamental human rights and safety. The Florida Legislature’s insistence on targeting trans people is bizarre, unnecessary, unconstitutional, and extremely dangerous.”

While the most recent language of SB 254 no longer includes the horrific provision that would have allowed Florida courts to modify out-of-state custody agreements, allowing unsupportive parents to move their children to Florida to prevent them from accessing gender-affirming health care, it still includes the “trans kidnapping” provision that would give courts emergency jurisdiction to remove trans children from their families because they are receiving gender-affirming care.

“I can’t believe I’m writing this,” said former Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. “Parents would be charged with felonies [and] thrown in prison. This is fascist.”

The legislation would also prohibit the use of state funds for gender-affirming care, prohibit gender-affirming care for trans youth, and direct the state Board of Medicine to adopt emergency rules regarding trans youth who are already receiving gender-affirming care. Any health care practitioner who provides trans kids with gender-affirming care would be guilty of a felony under the legislation.

Florida Sen. Lori Berman (D) condemned Republican attacks on bodily autonomy and trans health care in a comment before the chamber voted to pass the legislation.

“I would say free states don’t ban health care,” Berman said. “This bill is wrong on the way it attacks transgender adults, wrong on the way it attacks parents’ rights to raise their children, and wrong on how it puts medical professionals at risk.”

In March, the Florida Board of Medicine enacted a rule that banned gender-affirming care for transgender youth who had not yet started puberty blockers or hormone therapy, making it the eighth state to restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth. Under the rule, health care practitioners could have complaints filed against them; if found to be in violation of the rule, practitioners could face fines, suspension of their licenses, and other consequences. The rule is currently being contested by the Southern Legal Counsel and national advocacy groups in court. SB 254 would circumvent this lawsuit by legislating the gender-affirming health care ban for trans youth into law.

“This law will cause massive upheaval in medical care for the transgender community and cause immediate harm to thousands of Floridians of all ages who will lose access to lifesaving medical care,” the ACLU said in a statement.

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