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Proposed Florida Bill Could Allow “Legal Kidnapping” of Trans Children

The bill allows Florida courts to interfere with custody agreements from other states if a child is present in Florida.

The Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida’s unrelenting assault on trans livelihood has extended itself to criminalizing close supporters of trans individuals seeking gender-affirming care. On March 13, Florida’s Senate Committee on Health Policy voted to pass Senate Bill 254, which would impose criminal penalties on parents, guardians and medical providers helping trans children as they seek gender-affirming care. According to the bill, licensed medical facilities and medical providers granting this life-saving care to trans people under 18 risk criminal penalty or revocation of their medical licenses. Health care providers would be at risk for criminal prosecution simply for providing referrals of medical professionals outside of Florida to families of trans children. The bill would also prevent the allocation of state funding, including Medicaid and state employee insurance plans, to provide gender-affirming care to people under 18.

Moreover, Senate Bill 254 would undermine parents’ rights to pursue gender-affirming care for their children. In fact, according to the bill, Florida courts would have the right to intervene in custody agreements when one parent expresses disapproval of their child receiving this care. Ultimately, courts could place the child with the unsupportive parent who petitioned the court to prevent the child from receiving gender-affirming care. The law would even impose felony penalties on the parent providing gender-affirming care to the child. This would extend to children or parents not physically present in Florida, as Imara Jones, journalist and founder of TransLash Media, explains. “Let’s say custody was awarded in Florida and one [parent] moved to California with the child to seek gender-affirming care for them. The parent remaining in Florida can go to court to get that custody agreement reversed,” Jones told Truthout.

Even more insidious is the fact that the bill further enables Florida courts to interfere with custody agreements from other states if the child is physically present in Florida and one parent or guardian is seeking gender-affirming health care for the child in another state. For this reason, some advocates emphasize that the bill allows for the legal kidnapping of trans children from their families.

The bill has been sent to another committee for review.

Many trans advocates have spoken out against Senate Bill 254, with Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf stressing that the bill is an egregious assault on trans livelihood and parental rights. “It’s an incredibly dangerous bill that looks to upend families, break up custody agreements and ultimately strip parents of the rights to seek the best healthcare for their children,” he told WESH News.

Nikole Parker, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida, underscored the authoritarian precedent lying at the heart of the bill in a public statement: “This bill is about extremist politics, not well-being. A supportive parent could lose custody of their child and face felony prosecution for seeking life-saving care.”

In a statement following the March 13 vote, Kirk Bailey, political director of the ACLU of Florida, highlighted the bill’s infringement on the sanctity of the parent-child relationship in determining the best medical treatment for a child in accordance with their doctor’s provision: “Now the State seeks to punish families for providing life-saving, critical, medically-necessary healthcare for their transgender children and people in Florida.”

Health care providers would be at risk for criminal prosecution simply for providing referrals of medical professionals outside of Florida to families of trans children.

For trans advocate Tatiana Williams, the executive director of Florida’s Transinclusive Group, Florida lawmakers’ attempt to intervene in the decisions made between parents, doctors, therapists and children seeking gender-affirming health care — by targeting the families and clinicians involved — is to be expected. “It’s a domino effect of people who support our affirming care that are in danger. [The state] starts by targeting the [trans] individual, and then they come for the community that’s giving them access to these resources. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up,” Williams told Truthout.

In fact, aside from the SB 254 bill, Florida lawmakers most recently drafted legislation that would prevent people from changing the sex assigned on their birth certificate. The bill also bans all gender-affirming health care for minors, including gender-confirmation surgeries or other surgical procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics, puberty blocking, hormone therapies, and more. Florida lawmakers have also filed a bill that would criminalize trans people for entering a bathroom that doesn’t align with their sex assigned at birth, and are further working to prohibit instruction on gender identity and sexuality through the 8th grade via the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Criminalizing the families and medical professionals who support the needs of trans children is a form of legal disempowerment designed to stifle trans children’s access to life-saving resources. Imara Jones told MSNBC that this phenomenon will continue and “parents of trans kids have to determine where and how they can flee to other places in the U.S. so that they can protect their children.” Cities across the U.S. are preparing for more legislation like this by establishing trans refugee protections for those being forced to leave their state. California already passed its own trans refugee bill in September of last year, while 18 other states (including Florida) pledged to work on protections for those fleeing anti-trans legislation in their home state.

Even within states like Florida that are actively working to undermine progress in trans rights, Jones emphasized that mass mobilization by the people is what will hinder more laws like this from being passed. “The right wing has been planning this conversation for over a decade and they have the infrastructure to move these bills from state to state,” Jones told Truthout. “But this is a created crisis that [state legislators] think they can perpetuate without people caring. They believe they can pass these bills essentially cost-free. What’s important is that people make their voices heard.”

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