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Bill that bans children from attending drag shows gets final approval and heads to DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE — With Republicans across the country targeting transgender issues, the Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a controversial bill aimed at preventing children from attending drag shows and two other trans-related measures that also drew fierce debate.

While the bill that got final approval does not specifically mention drag shows, it moved through the Legislature after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration took steps such as filing a complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event in December. The bill (SB 1438) passed the Senate last week and is ready to go to DeSantis.

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The other measures would bar doctors from providing treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers to transgender minors and prevent transgender men and women from using bathrooms that don’t line up with their sex assigned at birth. Those bills need final approval from the Senate.

Protesters converged on the Capitol this week to fight the bills, but House Republicans rejected attempts by Democrats to change the measures. Supporters of the legislation said, in part, that they were trying to protect children.

“Let kids be kids,” Rep. Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, said during a debate on the bill related to drag shows. “Protect them from losing their innocence.”

But Democrats disputed that the measures were motivated by protecting children.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Rep. Daryl Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, said about the bill related to drag shows, “This is an attack on the LGBTQ+ community, on free speech and on Floridians.”

The House voted 82-32 along party lines to pass the bill related to drag shows.

The bill seeks to block venues from admitting children to “adult live performances.” It defines “adult live performances” as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience and in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

It would prohibit local governments from issuing public permits for events that could expose children to the targeted behavior. Also, it would allow state regulators to suspend or revoke licenses of restaurants, bars and other venues that violate the law.

Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have pursued bills this year targeting transgender issues. DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024, has frequently raised the issues.

The House voted 82-31 to pass the bill (SB 254) that would prevent doctors from providing treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers to transgender minors. The Senate approved the bill early this month, but the House made changes, meaning it will have to go back to the Senate for a final vote.

That bill would largely put into law rules approved by the state Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine at the urging of the DeSantis administration. Those rules went into effect last month.

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The House voted 80-37 to pass the bill on bathroom use. The bill would require that a wide range of businesses, health-care 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.

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

All three of the bills drew sometimes-emotional debate Tuesday and Wednesday in the House.

For example, Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, said the bill related to drag shows was about using the “power of the state to advance a homophobic agenda.”

“This is about punishing businesses that dare ally themselves with a vulnerable community that’s on the hit list,” Joseph said.

But while debating the bill that would prohibit treatments such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender minors, Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, cited a need to protect children.

“This is not hateful,” Tramont said. “This is not ignoring a segment of society. This is in fact protecting the most-vulnerable of our society.”

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