Elijah Manley was wandering the halls of the Florida Capitol yesterday to kill time before he planned to speak out against an anti-trans bill in the state House of Representatives. When he walked past an open office door, he recognized the man behind the desk.
"I was like, That's the guy that actually introduced this bill," Manley tells New Times. "He let me come in, and we talked for ten to 15 minutes."
Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini is sponsoring the Vulnerable Child Protection Act (HB 1365), a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to prescribe hormone therapy or perform gender reassignment surgery on minors. Manley, a candidate for Florida House District 94 in Broward County who made a run for U.S. president at the age of 16, traveled to Tallahassee yesterday to speak out against the bill at a meeting of the House Health Quality Subcommittee.
At first, the 21-year-old Manley was excited to have an opportunity to change Sabatini's mind. Manley, who identifies as nonbinary, says he told the representative he feared the youth transgender suicide rate would increase if the bill passed. But he says Sabatini refused to acknowledge the gender spectrum and declared that all identities beyond male and female are "manufactured."
"I went in with a very open mind, and I thought he would have an open mind too," Manley says. "But all I heard was partisan rhetoric."
Just met with Rep. Sabatini, the state rep who introduced the anti-trans bill in the Florida House. According to him, we “manufacture” our gender identities. I’ve never been in a more rhetoric filled meeting with any legislator before him. pic.twitter.com/U0Pd5d9S8H— Elijah Manley (@iElijahManley) February 3, 2020
The two soon parted ways and headed into the subcommittee meeting, during which Sabatini explained he wanted to "pump the brakes" on the "explosion" of gender clinics that have cropped up in Florida to provide care for transgender youth.
"What's happening right now in Florida and around the nation in terms of gender reassignment is really sort of the Wild West," Sabatini said. "There are no real valid, serious diagnoses given to a child before they go down the path of changing their gender and their sexual identity."
Sabatini cited support for his bill from the American College of Pediatricians, an assertion that subcommittee member Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith repeatedly criticized throughout the meeting.
"You sent us a letter from the American College of Pediatricians, but they have been thoroughly debunked by really the entire industry of medical professionals," Smith said, pointing out that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a hate group.
Well, well, well. Turns out the “experts” @AnthonySabatini brought to persuade our committee to CRIMINALIZE doctors for providing care to transgender youth is designated by @splcenter as a HATE GROUP. Why am I not surprised? @ACPeds has ZERO credibility.https://t.co/ncOLSrVu8a— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) February 3, 2020
Throughout the nearly three-hour discussion, Smith blasted the idea of criminal penalties for doctors who administer medical services that are considered best practices for transgender children.
"Why should we criminalize healthcare that follows what the overwhelming consensus of medical professionals in the nation and in the world say is appropriate and lifesaving for transgender youth?" Smith asked.
A number of Florida residents, including Manley, also spoke out against Sabatini's bill. During the public comment period, Manley alluded to his chat with Sabatini earlier in the day.
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"It was very enlightening," Manley told the subcommittee. "I discovered that the representative believes that we are 'manufacturing' our identities and that this [bill] is more of a broader national movement to basically stigmatize us."
Manley suggested that instead of passing a "nasty bill," lawmakers ought to work on legislation "that uplifts transgender youth."
The subcommittee took no vote on the Vulnerable Child Protection Act yesterday, meaning the bill likely won't gain traction.
"[HB 1365] does not protect vulnerable children even though it says that in the headline," Manley tells New Times. "It actually does the opposite."