Florida House Rep. Webster Barnaby is under fire for calling transgender people “demons,” “imps” and “mutants.” His remarks were made on the House floor April 10.
Barnaby, from Deltona, represents District 29, which includes DeLand southwest Volusia County. He was re-elected in 2022.
The comments came during a Florida House Commerce Committee hearing on Florida HB 1521, or “The Safety and Private Spaces Act.” If passed, the bill would make using a restroom not aligned with one’s “biological sex” a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
Supporters of the bill say its intent is to keep men out of women’s restrooms, but detractors, around 20 of whom spoke April 10, said the law would be difficult to enforce and would only marginalize transgender people and force them into spaces where they don’t feel safe.
“The last thing Florida residents, our tourist economy, businesses, and our police need are countless, frivolous 911 calls,” Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund Florida Policy Director Jonathan Webber said. “Make no mistake, this bill will become a weapon used to harass anyone who is seemingly gender-nonconforming.”
When public discussion finished, Barnaby used his time on the floor to say he did not understand much of the terminology used and to say that it was time to “push back” against the “evil” he sees in the world and in the House chambers.
“I’m looking at society today and it’s like I’m watching an X-Men movie … it’s like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth. You know, some people don’t like that, but it’s a fact,” Barnaby said. “We have people who live among us on Planet Earth who are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet. This is the planet Earth, where God created men male and women female. I’m a proud Christian, conservative Republican. I’m not on the fence. Not on the fence.”
VIDEO COURTESY THE FLORIDA CHANNEL
A clip from the Florida House Commerce Committee hearing April 10 on HB 1521
Several representatives rebuked Barnaby for his comments, including Rep. Chase Tramont, a Republican whose district includes part of Volusia County. He supports the bill, he said, but does not support dehumanizing the people who spoke against it.
“I’m also a Christian man and I just want to say to some of the folks in here who shared their testimony, I appreciated you coming up,” Tramont said. “You’re not an evil being, I believe you’re fearfully and wonderfully made and I want you to live your life as well.”
Barnaby’s comments drew local backlash, too.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood likened Barnaby’s comments to those made by white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups.
“I will admit there’s a lot I don’t understand about transgender issues and some of the debates going on today. Maybe I’m showing my own ignorance, but these are just not easy concepts for all of us to wrap our minds around. That’s OK,” Sheriff Chitwood said in a post on social media. “Webster Barnaby is an embarrassment to Volusia County and to the state of Florida, and in my opinion, his words prove he isn’t fit to represent our community.”
Local LGBT activism organization DeLand Pride said Barnaby’s rhetoric is dangerous.
“The words spoken in a committee hearing yesterday by Representative Webster Barnaby are not only absurdly disrespectful to the LGBTQ+ community, they are dangerous and divisive,” the organization wrote in a social media post. “This type of hate is being used to incite violence all across our state, and we will not stand silently as it happens in Volusia County. We would like to remind Representative Barnaby that he was elected to represent ALL of his constituents in his district, not just those who think or look like him.”
Later in the committee hearing, Barnaby apologized for his statements, despite saying earlier he wouldn’t apologize, according to a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times who attended the hearing.
“I would like to apologize to the trans community for referring to you as demons,” Barnaby said.
Barnaby could not immediately be reached for comment.
The full text of HB 1521 is available to read on the Florida Senate website, HERE.
Rep. Webster Barnaby described transgender people as similar to “mutants” in a movie in the X-Men series, or something out of a Marvel comic book. Stetson University professor of creative arts Joseph Witek said that’s missing the whole point of comics like X-Men.
“The X-Men are the heroes,” he said. “The text is asking us to sympathize with them as oppressed because of their difference.”
Witek teaches classes on comics and graphic novels at Stetson University. He was also cited as an expert witness in the 2001 court case Twentieth Century Fox Film v. Marvel Enterprises, which involved the two companies debating who owned specific X-Men properties.
“I read X-Men comics from the beginning,” Witek said. “I’ve actually been paid money to talk about the X-Men, as opposed to just knowing about it from reading the comics.”
The series began in the 1960s and, while its subject matter often talked about civil rights subtextually, Witek said, it was in the 1980s when the civil rights themes came to the forefront.
“Magneto, once the prime villain, is a Holocaust survivor, so anti-mutant prejudice is race, it’s ethnicity, it’s religion,” he explained. “It’s kind of a catchall parallel to all of these other kinds of differences which are oppressed.”
Witek specifically cited one graphic novel, 1982’s X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson.
“There’s a fundamentalist preacher named William Stryker who preaches mutants are abominations in the eyes of God,” Witek said.
But Stryker is the story’s villain, Witek said, and his line of thinking sounds similar to Barnaby’s.
“It is a fundamental misreading,” Witek said, “unless you just want to sympathize with the villains.”
— Witek is Beacon reporter Eli Witek’s father.
Update, April 11: Florida Legislative Black Caucus adds to Barnaby denunciations
The Florida Legislative Black Caucus April 11 joined the voices criticizing Florida House Rep. Webster Barnaby for his comments calling transgender people “demons.”
Florida Black Caucus Chair Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, issued the following statement:
“What we witnessed Monday is textbook transphobia and hate. It is unfortunate that members of the Legislature have thought it wise to resort to such unnecessary and harmful words when debating bills. To make matters worse, they use God’s name, a God who said that ‘the greatest commandment is love,’ to spread such hate. The actions displayed today are not Christ-like. This type of behavior has no place in the Florida Legislature, there should [be] swift action taken as a result of this. Representative Barnaby should be censured and held accountable.”
I applaud Mr.Barnaby. We are being intimidated into bending the rules for a small group of people that are forcing their lifestyle on the nation. Life your life, but I don’t have to live that life.