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Florida’s proposed bill gives $35K penalty for speaking against transphobia

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A Florida bill introduced by Florida Senator Jason Brodeur last week proposes a hefty penalty of $35,000 for accusing someone of transphobia.

Senate Bill 1780, a Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likenesses bill, addressed concerns such as defamation, false light, and unauthorized publication.

The bill underlines that any allegations claiming that a plaintiff has been discriminatory due to race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity “constitutes defamation per se.” If the allegations hold, the accuser is eligible for a minimum of $35,000 in statutory compensation.

This bill, along with other 17 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, is to be introduced and reviewed in the 2024 Florida Legislative Session starting Tuesday, January 9.

Brodeur’s current effort to restrict free speech is not his first attempt, as it follows Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the “blogger bill.” Last March, Sen. Brodeur introduced Senate Bill 1316, intending to impose regulations on bloggers discussing Florida government figures.

Although it failed in the judiciary in May 2023, the bill revealed the lengths to which Florida officials would go to silence criticism of their representatives.

Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida’s current Republican presidential candidate, has been the driving force behind these attempts, despite his public stance on free speech. Over 600 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced last year in the US with over 150 bills already in motion this year, with Florida accounting for nearly 20.

The bill’s motive and implications

With Senate Bill 1780, members of the LGBTQ community are put at risk for speaking out against discrimination. Maxx Fenning, founder and executive director of PRISM, a youth-led nonprofit promoting LGBTQ inclusivity, discusses the bill’s motive.

Emphasizing that the bill will provide legislators spreading hateful rhetoric without consequences, Fenning said, “In my opinion, the best way to avoid being called a bigot isn’t to wrap your constituents’ mouths with duct tape; it’s to stop doing bigoted things that harm Floridians in the first place.”

The allegations covered by the bill extend across various mediums, including print, television, and internet utterances. All claims of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, according to the bill, could lead to substantial legal action.

An additional provision specifically concerning homophobia and transphobia increases the likelihood of successful lawsuits by preventing defendants from using a plaintiff’s “constitutionally protected religious expression or beliefs” or “scientific beliefs” to substantiate the truth of their allegations.

It’s not permissible for a defendant to establish the factual accuracy of their claim by citing religious convictions or scientific theories.

Therefore, the bill, along with its accompanying provisions, would create significant hurdles in establishing the validity of accusations related to transphobic discrimination, making them difficult to prove. As a consequence, individuals leveling such accusations could find themselves liable for damages.

Equality Florida’s stance

According to Jon Harris Maurer, the public policy director for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, the bill represents Governor DeSantis’ persisting efforts in censorship and an endeavor to chastise opponents. Senate Bill 1780 would ‘chill freedom of speech,’ as it forces a court to presume, with no basis, that any claim of sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia is false and defamatory.

Maurer, expressing that the government cannot solve problems by ignoring them, said, “We cannot address sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia by pretending they don’t exist. This bill seems intended to avoid addressing those problems, and it enforces a $35,000 minimum penalty to ensure we don’t.”

Equality Florida is currently urging its members and allies to attend the legislative session in full force, voicing opposition against bills like SB 1780. Maurer remarked that the Equality Florida community is committed to holding lawmakers accountable for the serious harms they perpetuate for political gain.

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