FL House Bill 599: another anti-gender identity bill
Pride at the Capital. Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan.

FL House Bill 599: another anti-gender identity bill

On Nov. 11, a bill was introduced to the Florida Senate by Representative Ryan Chamberlin (R-District 24) titled House Bill 599: Gender Identity Employment Practices. The legislation would strip employees of gender protection in the workplace, prohibiting “employees & contractors of certain employers from being required to use and from being asked to provide certain titles & pronouns” as well as prohibiting “employees & contractors from being penalized or subjected to certain actions for not providing certain titles & pronouns.” If adopted, the bill is set to take effect on July 1, 2024.

Chamberlain’s personal pronoun restrictions resemble HB 1069, which passed during the 2023 legislative session and was signed into law by Gov. Ron Desantis in May. This bill prohibits pronoun choices and the definition of sex in early education classrooms. 

HB 599 can be summarized in seven parts. First, it introduces Section 110.1051 in the Florida Statutes, which deals explicitly with personal titles and pronouns in employment settings. Second, it defines key terms such as “employer,” “contractor,” and “adverse personnel action” with an emphasis on one’s biological gender. Third, it states that a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait. Fourth, contractors and employers cannot use pronouns that do not match the pronouns assigned at birth and are prohibited from asking employees if they have a preferred pronoun. Fifth, it prohibits personnel actions based on an employee’s or contractor’s religious or biology-based beliefs. Sixth, it outlines civil remedies for violations of the provisions. And finally, it prohibits  any organization that receives state funding from engaging or participating in sexual orientation or gender expression training.

The fifth point of the bill states more fully that “it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to take adverse personnel action against an employee or a contractor because of the employee’s or contractor’s deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs, including a belief in traditional or Biblical views of sexuality and marriage, or the employee’s or contractor’s disagreement with gender ideology, whether those views are expressed by the employee or contractor at or away from the worksite.” This portion brings into question the doctrine of separation of church and state laid out in the U.S. Constitution, as it protects religious ideologies concerning gender in a government workplace. It shields employees or contractors from being compelled to act against their deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs.

The bill makes it unlawful for “employment practice for nonprofit organizations to require certain training, instruction, or activity” having to do with gender orientation. This could limit the ability of these organizations to engage in diversity and inclusion training, or activities that address LGBTQ+ issues.

Amy Reid, Professor of French Language and Director of Gender Studies , shared the emotional toils of their job during this tumultuous time in an email interview with the Catalyst.

“I am, as the Director of Gender Studies, but also as a human, really concerned about the multiple threats to principles of respect for individuals that have come out of Tallahassee in recent years, including HB 599 and SB 266,” Reid stated. 

“Since 2021, we’ve seen a growing number of bills that impact education and specifically higher education in Florida, limiting what can be taught, discouraging or prohibiting discussions of racism and of issues related to gender identity. So yes, the legislation has negatively impacted my ability to do my work: when faculty need to be concerned that students may record them to file a complaint, that is cause for concern. When topics including systemic racism are excluded from the general education curriculum, when ’activism’ is deemed suspect, that constrains how and what I teach.” 

Reid was asked how students can grapple with the burden of their government diminishing their gender rights. 

“I think we have to grapple with the fact that our state government is making this state less welcoming to education—to educators and to those seeking an education,” Reid said. “We’re seeing some of the consequences of that in the departures of faculty, staff and students from our campus and from campuses across the state—and sadly, I think that’s going to become a more evident problem in coming months. 

“HB 599 tries to silence speech around gender identity; SB 266 places limits on what can be taught in our Florida State University System (SUS),” Reid continued. “It may be that New College will not offer Intro to Gender Studies again, but we can still talk about and read works that have defined the field of Gender Studies in the United States. From bell hooks and Simone de Beauvoir, to Judith Butler and Jean Genet.” 

Reid explains how recent bills have commandeered campus inclusivity and their ability to support their students. 

“When trans folk can’t use the bathroom and when gender neutral signs on our campus have been removed, that makes this campus, which has been my academic home for almost 30 years, feel less welcoming and less safe. All of that has a negative impact on my ability to do my work, and by my work, I mean to support students in their learning process, to ensure that students are both exposed to ideas and texts that matter and that they have the critical skills necessary to read them well and to develop their own well-reasoned opinions.” 

Reid shared hope for better times to come. 

“I feel like these legal gambits are the last ditch efforts of what bell hooks referred to as the ‘imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy’ to maintain control of the levers of power. It’s hard to be living through this moment, but…  I believe in free speech, I believe in individual rights, and I believe that our society is better and stronger when we respect and value each other. That gives me hope.”

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