The minute Senate Bill 254 hit Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, DeLandite Jamie and her wife decided they needed to get out of Florida. They didn’t feel like they had a choice.
That bill, passed on a near party-line vote by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, makes it harder for transgender adults to access health care.
Jamie’s less worried about herself as she is her kids. Under the new law, the administration of puberty blockers and other gender-affirming medical care is considered “serious bodily harm.” If one of her kids came out as transgender and wanted to medically transition, Jamie fears that could be used as evidence in a custody challenge by unsupportive estranged family members.
So Jamie, born and raised in DeLand, said goodbye to her Florida life and her years of involvement with local LGBTQ+-advocacy organization DeLand Pride. Jamie and her wife packed up the car with their kids, and their three dogs, four cats and pet mouse and moved to Illinois. They put gas in the cars and didn’t stop until they got outside of Florida.
Jamie, who did not want to be identified by her full name to ensure her safety, came out as a transgender woman at the age of 34. She always knew there was something different about herself, but she didn’t have the language to express it.
She used the term “gay” to refer to herself for a long time, but it never felt quite right.
“I didn’t like men,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was.”
By the time Jamie came out as a transgender woman in 2020, she and her wife, Casey, had already been together for 13 years and had two children together.
“I know that my wife always knew from the day she met me,” Jamie said. “But she was waiting on me to have the strength to tell her.”
The kids took it pretty easy, too, she said.
“I came out,” Jamie said, “and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re mama? OK. Can I have a cookie?’”
Jamie was involved with DeLand Pride and ran a number of Facebook groups for transgender people who were looking for a community. But with the passage of recent legislation like SB 254 in Florida, the atmosphere had become too hostile, she said.
Jamie is far from the only person who has been impacted by the legislation, Heather McLean told The Beacon. McLean is the community information director for DeLand Pride, a DeLand-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.
Studies place the percentage of transgender individuals in the United States between 1 and 2 percent of the population, but as many as 20 bills filed in the Florida Legislature this past legislative session dealt with — directly or indirectly, McLean said — transgender people or the LGBTQ+ community more broadly.
“To me, it just seems like fear. I think people are afraid of what they don’t understand,” McLean said. “You have to give someone the benefit of the doubt that they know themselves better than you know them.”
Another bill concerning transgender individuals is House Bill 1521, signed into law by DeSantis in May. This law mandates that, in publicly owned spaces like schools and other government buildings, individuals must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth. If a person questions the gender of another person in the same restroom, they can call the police, and if that individual is found to be using a restroom that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.
McLean says it’s a solution to a problem that is being unnecessarily trumped up.
“I think what you’re seeing is … people really reacting to transgender people trying to make this world safer for themselves,” she said.
With national attention on transgender people across the country, living day to day as a transgender person can be difficult. That’s what a 19-year-old nonbinary college student living in DeLand said. They wanted to remain anonymous for fear of physical violence, and will be referred to as Marlo throughout this story.
“It’s definitely gotten worse in the last couple of months,” they said.
Around Volusia County, they’ve been physically assaulted and called a “pedophile,” “a groomer,” and other derogatory names.
As a child, Marlo knew they were different, but they didn’t understand why, even though they were assigned female at birth, they couldn’t live as a boy. Years later, as a college student, they began living as a nonbinary individual and taking testosterone to medically transition.
Support has been mixed among Marlo’s family.
“Half understands that I’ve been like this my entire life and are thankful that I now have the language and medical assistance to embody my experience,” they said. “The other half subscribe to the idea that your entire life track should be presupposed by what genitalia you are born with.”
Marlo’s prescription for hormones came through SPEKTRUM Health clinic in Orlando. Staffed by nurse practitioners, the clinic is specifically built to provide health care to LGBTQ+ people, with staff well-versed in the kind of health issues LGBTQ+ people experience.
But when SB 254 was signed by Gov. DeSantis, SPEKTRUM had to change. The new law requires that gender-affirming health care for adults, like hormone prescriptions, be provided by a medical doctor — and first visits must be in-person — and not a nurse practitioner.
SPEKTRUM anticipated the changes were coming, and clinic staff made sure patients were taken care of. Amid the panic that they may lose access to health care, Marlo realized their dad has federal insurance, and their hormones would still be covered under that plan.
Florida’s medical establishment has seen other legal changes, too.
Under newly passed Florida law, thanks to Senate Bill 1580 passed earlier this year, medical providers can now opt out of providing certain care due to objections of “conscience.”
From the bill: “A health care provider or health care payor has the right to opt out of participation in or payment for any health care service on the basis of a conscience-based objection.”
Those objections include, per the new law, “moral, ethical, and religious convictions.”
With all of these changes to state law, even though Marlo grew up in Florida, they plan to leave when they graduate. Marlo wants to pursue education, but they don’t feel safe becoming a professor in Florida.
“I don’t feel comfortable here, and it hurts,” they said. “I love Florida. I was born and raised here, it’s my home. For me, there has been no worse feeling than knowing I have to leave my home because it’s no longer safe for me here. I love my state but I will not live with the constant fear of being killed for who I am.”
Since Florida’s legislative session ended, chips in the armor of the state’s anti-transgender agenda have already started to show. A U.S. district judge ruled June 21 that the state’s ban on using Medicaid for gender-affirming hormone therapy was devoid of a “rational basis to categorically ban these treatments or to exclude them from the state’s Medicaid coverage.” Earlier in June, the same judge issued a partial block on Florida’s law banning people under 18 from receiving gender-affirming health care.
This all comes after a vitriolic legislative session during which Volusia County Rep. Webster Barnaby called transgender people “imps” and “demons.”
“We have people who live among us on Planet Earth who are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet,” Barnaby said in his now nationally famous anti-transgender speech in Tallahassee. “This is the planet Earth, where God created men male and women female.”
Barnaby’s argument wasn’t unlike the singer and political activist Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s: “Homosexuals cannot reproduce,” she said, “so they must recruit.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, too, is ramping up a presidential campaign with a hard stance against the LGBTQ community. In a campaign ad posted to social media, DeSantis slammed former President Donald Trump for supporting LGBTQ+ people, including a clip of Trump saying he would protect LGBTQ+ Americans following the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando that left 49 people dead.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, sided with a graphic designer who said she did not want to design websites for same-sex weddings.
From The Associated Press: “The decision suggests that artists, photographers, videographers and writers are among those who can refuse to offer what the court called expressive services if doing so would run contrary to their beliefs.”
In the face of all of the changes to Florida law and the wave of state and national attention on LGBTQ+ people, DeLand Pride is taking a defiant stance.
“We’re not going anywhere,” the group posted on its social media May 20. “We will work carefully to ensure that the community is protected as much as possible from this harmful legislation, while still providing the important visibility, representation, and inclusive events that you expect from our organizations.”
Members of the organization believe that even if it’s a small difference, they want to make local members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe. Being visible to people who might be doubting themselves is half the battle, McLean said.
“I just hope they see one of our T-shirts on someone’s back, or they walk past our storefront in Downtown DeLand and know they’re not alone,” she said.
As LGBTQ+ health issues become a national and statewide political flashpoint, terms with complex medical definitions have become easily misconstrued as they are taken out of context.
Currently blocked by a federal judge, a Florida law passed in this year’s legislative session would ban all gender-affirming care for minors and label any gender-affirming care administered as child abuse.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis said his ban on gender-affirming care was a ban on “child body mutilation,” Joseph Knoll, the founder of SPEKTRUM Health, an LGBTQ-centric clinic in Orlando, said that’s “absurd.”
Knoll, a registered nurse, officially opened SPEKTRUM in 2018. As a gay man with many other close LGBTQ+ friends, he wanted to help people become their fully realized selves. Over the course of his career, Knoll estimates he has helped more than 10,000 people through their gender transitions.
Knoll realized he was gay when he was a kid. He had no support, he said, and one of his goals with SPEKTRUM was to ensure that no kid feels like he did. But, he said, the scenarios touted by lawmakers in Florida — and across the country — of young children having invasive surgeries performed is just false.
“This is an image they’re creating that doesn’t exist,” Knoll said.
“Gender affirming care, in short, is medical interventions we put in place to help someone reduce their gender dysphoria and affirm their gender identity.”
Dysphoria, Knoll said, is the persistent, nagging feeling that your “physical person does not match your identity.”
That disconnect, he said, can result in symptoms like anxiety and depression.
Gender-affirming care seeks to combat dysphoria with the prescription of hormones, hormone blockers or even surgical intervention. But surgeries are not as common as many people on the outside of the LGBTQ+ community looking in think they are, Knoll said.
Among minors, Knoll explained, prescriptions for a child expressing gender dysphoria begin with mental health therapy and then clinic staff goes from there.
“No 12-year-old is walking through the door and starting hormones the first time we meet them,” he said. “This is quite a process to get to. Nobody is coming in one day, and the next day having any kind of surgery on their genitals, whether it be their breasts or lower genitals. It’s just not how it happens.”
If minors do start hormone therapy to medically transition their gender, it can be through the use of drugs that delay puberty. Typically referred to as puberty blockers, Knoll said “puberty pausers” is a more apt descriptor.
“If we stop it, we either introduce hormones that will affirm the gender identity,” he explained, “or we take it away and the body will pick it back up where it left off.”
Through its gender-affirming care and the other health care offered by SPEKTRUM, Knoll’s goal has always been to make sure he creates a safe, welcoming space for people working through medical situations that can often put their entire identity into question.
While SPEKTRUM currently has just one clinic in Orlando, Knoll hopes to expand to Volusia County.
After all, he said, Volusia County beaches are his favorite in Central Florida.