Florida Bill Would Make Accusations Of Transphobia Defamation With A $35K Penalty
A new bill in Florida would make accusations of Transphobia would be treated as defamation. The defendant could not "prove truth" by citing a plaintiff's "scientific or religious beliefs."
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A new bill introduced in Florida, Senate Bill 1780, would make accusations of discrimination towards transgender people “defamation per se,” with accusers on the hook for a hefty $35,000 penalty. Critically, the bill states that if you are sued for defamation under the statutes, you cannot use the defendant’s scientific or religious beliefs or expression to prove that they are acting in a discriminatory fashion towards transgender people. These and other provisions would make it so that accusations of transphobic discrimination would be nearly impossible to prove, and would leave anyone making the accusation on the hook for damages.
The bill outlines several methods and protections for individuals accused of transphobic actions to sue their accusers. For example, one clause stipulates that a person cannot be deemed a public figure due to their association with “a video, image, or statement uploaded on the internet that has reached a large audience.” This implies that if someone is captured on video engaging in discriminatory behavior against transgender individuals, such as denying entry or using slurs, this viral content cannot establish their status as a “public figure.” Consequently, this makes it easier for them to initiate lawsuits against those who accuse them of transphobia, regardless of what the video shows.
Most importantly, the bill contains a section that would make allegations that someone is operating in a discriminatory fashion towards “race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity” defamation per se, meaning accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia could result in hefty lawsuits. For homophobia and transphobia, there is an additional provision that would make lawsuits much more likely to succeed: defendants could not cite a plaintiff’s “constitutionally protected religious expression or beliefs” or a plaintiff’s “scientific beliefs” to prove the truth of their allegation of homophobia or transphobia.
See the section here:
This would eviscerate the ability of any person to defend themselves against a defamation suit under this law. A person could not call, for instance, a fiercely anti-gay or anti-trans pastor transphobic. The pastor would be able to sue their accusers for $35,000 and their accusers could not use the pastor’s “religious expression or beliefs” to prove that the pastor is transphobic or homophobic. Similarly, if a shopkeeper kicks a transgender person out of a shop while citing “God’s word” or their “scientific beliefs” and the video goes viral, the shopkeeper could claim that they were acting under their “constitutionally protected religious expression or beliefs” or their “scientific beliefs.” It would bar anyone from calling that shopkeeper transphobic.
The bill would tremendously chill speech in Florida. The bill applies to print, television, and even online posts, meaning that even posting on social media that someone is transphobic or homophobic could land one in trouble. It also removes privileges for journalists and would not allow a journalist to use an anonymous source in reporting on transphobia, homophobia, racism, and sexism.
The bill was brought forward by Florida Senator Jason Brodeur, who famously released another bill targeting freedom of speech in 2023, dubbed “the blogger bill.” That bill would have made it so that all bloggers must register with the state or be barred from publicizing criticism about politicians in the state. Senator Brodeur has previously claimed that he is in favor of “protecting free speech” when speaking about “campus indoctrination.”
The bill appears to mirror a separate bill brought in 2023, which passed the Civil Justice subcommittee but died in the Judiciary Committee. The new bill is essentially unchanged and represents a second attempt to get the law through. Given Florida’s history of escalating anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” expansion in the state, it bears close watching for potential passage this year.
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