Equity & Diversity

Florida Board of Education Restricts Bathroom Access and Pronoun Use for Trans Students

By Eesha Pendharkar — July 21, 2023 5 min read
The doors to public restrooms are propped open at an office complex on May 9, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif.
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Florida’s state board of education this week passed new rules restricting transgender students’ bathroom access at school and clarifying that teachers don’t have to use pronouns that align with trans students’ gender identity. The rules also enshrine new restrictions on any school-sponsored activity involving drag.

The rules are intended to implement three laws passed earlier this year.

One law restricts transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students’ and teachers’ ability to use the bathrooms of their choice. Another bars teachers from asking students for their pronouns and states that they can’t be required to use students’ and other teachers’ pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth. It also bars teachers from sharing their pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth. A third cracks down on “adult” performances for which children are present.

The three laws are part of a wave of legislation passed in Republican-led states in the past couple of years targeting transgender students.

The state’s commissioner of education, Manny Diaz Jr., said the rules protect students’ and parents’ rights.

“There is no higher calling than to protect our children from unwelcome influences and indoctrination,” Diaz, said in a press release announcing the rules.

“The rules adopted today ensure that our kids can be kids while in the care of our schools.”

Diaz thanked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the board for their “unwavering commitment to the health, wellbeing and safety of our students.”

DeSantis has been criticized by LGBTQ+ advocates for restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ students in Florida, through laws he and Republican allies in the state legislature have passed since 2020, starting with the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which restricts classroom instruction on gender and sexual identity, even urging librarians to “err on the side of caution” while choosing library materials.

Board of education members, all of whom were appointed by DeSantis, have approved several rules over the past year implementing these laws. At the July 19 meeting, they also approved Black history standards that critics called “a big step backwards,” according to CNN.

“This suite of rules is a continued effort to politicize our classrooms that is not genuinely about student health, safety, and success. We’ve seen the DeSantis administration weaponize a number of state agencies, and unfortunately, our school board is now part of that,” said Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Queer and nonbinary students and teachers who spoke at the July 19 board meetings told board members that all these rules do is disrespect their identities, and urged the board to reject them.

“You are sacrificing our education for your anti-woke agenda and the victims are the students,” said Lola Smith, a student who spoke at the meeting.

The department of education did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Here are what the rules say, and how they will impact districts and educators:

Districts may have to make changes to facilities and bathroom use policies

The two new board of education rules related to bathroom use implement Florida’s HB 1521, signed into law on May 5.

Districts will have to designate bathrooms and changing facilities for exclusive use by males and females, according to the rule. Students will be required to use the bathrooms aligned with their sex assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity, under the new rules. Districts may also offer single-stall unisex bathrooms or changing rooms.

Districts will need to sign a form demonstrating compliance with the new rule by April 1, 2024. They are also required to establish disciplinary procedures for students who violate the bathroom rules.

A separate rule also prohibits teachers from entering a bathroom, locker room, or other changing facility that does not align with their sex assigned at birth. If they violate the rule, they could face revocation or suspension of their teaching certificate.

There are no guidelines for enforcement of the bathroom restrictions, Maurer, from Equality Florida, said. It will be up to individual enforcers to determine if a student or faculty member’s gender presentation aligns with the bathroom they are in, he said.

Teachers can’t be required to use students’ pronouns and names

Schools have to adopt a policy saying that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex,” under Florida’s newly passed law, HB 1069. The law expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” law to prevent instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in all grades, and also added rules for students’ and teachers’ pronouns.

Teachers can’t be required to use students’ gender-affirming pronouns, according to the law. They are also not allowed to tell students their pronouns if they differ from their sex assigned at birth under the law.

The board of education rule clarifies that violations of the law could result in the suspension of an educator’s license. The department of education did not clarify whether parents can request that teachers honor their children’s pronouns when they differ from their sex assigned at birth.

“In terms of parents’ rights, you now have a rule and a law that parents don’t have a right to ensure that their child’s pronouns are respected in school,” Maurer said.

“It’s not that a teacher can’t use an affirming pronoun. But if a teacher chooses not to, there’s no punishment, repercussion, and that parent doesn’t have any recourse.”

‘Adult live performance’ ban may impact GSAs and school theater

The board of education also passed a rule banning school-sponsored activities and events that expose children to “adult live entertainment,” based on Florida’s 1438, commonly referred to as an anti-drag bill, passed in April 2023.

The law itself resulted in pride events being canceled in Florida, since it also applies to businesses. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law while an Orlando restaurant sues the state over it.

Drag performances are not directly mentioned by the board of education rule. According to the law, “adult live entertainment” is defined as shows that depict or simulate nudity, sexual conduct, or exposure of “prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

“I think it’s likely to have a chilling effect on programming for GSAs and otherwise that involves drag,” Maurer said.

Maurer said the rule could also be used to censor theater performances that involve students dressing up as another gender.

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