Intentionally Vague: Florida passes purposely unclear bills

National News: With the growth of Queer Kentucky, we think it is important to keep our audience up to date on big national Queer news that may affect Kentucky in the future.

by Emma Koenig

This year, the Florida government passed bills that use purposefully vague wording and  interpretation to manipulate and scare LGBTQ+ communities. Unclear and nonspecific government documents disempower, intimidate, and confuse communities who are unlikely to know what certain bills, laws, and guidelines state or how they may affect them. LGBTQ+ communities are being bullied out of basic human rights through vague and ambiguous legislation that gives life-changing interpretation rights to teachers, doctors, and judges. Although this tactic isn’t new, it seems to be reemerging and used more prevalently in Florida. As other states are and will continue to try to pass similarly vague bills, it is important to be aware of recent clear examples to recognize them in other states and institutions.

Intentionally deceptive information was shared through Florida’s Department of Health to discourage patients from inquiring and pursuing certain transition treatments and procedures. In April of this year, the FDA released medical treatment guidelines, pre-surgery consent forms, and fact sheets that could create more hesitation, skepticism, and even prevent trans folks from seeking necessary medical care. The Florida Department of Health’s website contains medically inaccurate guidelines that describe gender transitions and hormonal therapy as “running an unacceptably high risk of harming” and advises against certain gender-affirming care and treatments. The Board of Medicine released a proposal on June 2nd to remove Medicare coverage for gender-affirming surgeries. Navigating medical visits as a trans person can be challenging and even dangerous even without these additional hurdles. The misleading anti-treatment stance the department takes restricts trans people from making informed and autonomous decisions about their bodies and transition journeys. 

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed this March, creates similar fear and confusion with unclear messages, meaning teachers and principals have to interpret and enforce the meaning of the bill however they see is best. This bill prohibits a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels. Without actual definitions attached to “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”, staff must determine their understanding and avoid conversations and lessons which could be considered inappropriate. Teachers are left to tiptoe around and possibly avoid important lesson topics such as the AIDs crisis and same-sex marriage to ensure they do not overstep an elusive line. Children with LGBTQ+ families are being silenced, confused, sexualized, shamed, and unable to learn, explore, or discuss anything other than than through a heteronormative lens. 

These bills do not just target and affect minorities. Florida passed an abortion bill in February which left everyone with the ability to get pregnant with very little autonomy over their choice to terminate their pregnancies. After 15 weeks, unless it is determined medically necessary by two physicians, in writing, as a way to save the pregnant person’s life, an abortion is against the law. A Florida bill passed in 2019 states a judge must find sufficient evidence using factors–age, intelligence, emotional development, well-being, ability to grasp the risks and “consequences” of their decision, and willingness to take on the responsibility–to determine whether a minor’s pregnancy can be terminated. These arbitrary and relative factors of whether or not someone can and should continue with pregnancy are weighed without specific guidelines. The task of presenting a convincing case for their right to abortion to a judge or doctor falls onto the pregnant person, and then they must give all control to the court to decide if they have to keep their pregnancy.

The passing of these intentionally vague and manipulative bills, laws, and regulations – as well as others– will affect marginalized communities most by compiling the disadvantages and lack of privilege already present. As other states have and will continue to pass similar laws to scare and quiet certain groups, it is critical to empower communities through education and awareness.

Empower your community:

  • Familiarize yourself with the specific bills which affect you and your community.
  • Stay informed of new bills and laws in your state and what they could mean for you and your community.
  • Be aware when vague wording is used and determine its intentions and risks.
  • Create safe spaces for children outside school to discuss gender and sexuality topics.
  • Educate your children on topics and historical events teachers may no longer be covered in school.
  • Use outside medical sources such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Medical Association when seeking medical advice and information.
  • Before seeking medical procedures or signing consent forms, ensure  the information is accurate and up to date.
  • Compare documents in other states and practices to find any disinformation.