Mariantonia Mejia | Staff Writer
Nearly six months after House Bill 1521’s passing, transgender students at FIU have begun to feel the bills’ cruel effects.
The bill, dubbed by Republican lawmakers as the Safety in Private Spaces Act, “prohibits willfully entering restrooms or changing facilities designated for opposite sex and refusing to depart when asked to do so,” among other things.
In November, the Board of Governors, which controls Florida’s public university system, passed an additional regulation which could charge transgender students and faculty with trespassing if they were to enter a bathroom on campus that does not match their sex assigned at birth.
Frankly, the bill and the additional regulation is spitting in the faces of all transgender students who put in the work to better FIU.
Kaily LaChapelle, Disabled Student Union vice president, Pride Student Union president and SGA Senate President, is among one of the many students affected by this transphobic bill.
In an interview with LaChapelle, they said, “I am transgender and non-binary. I have somewhat of a ‘passing privilege’ due to being a few years taking testosterone on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).”
“It would be weird and extremely uncomfortable for everyone if I had to use the ‘Women’s’ bathroom, which is my birth assigned at sex,” continued LaChapelle.
LaChapelle is often put in this uncomfortable situation because of the low number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
Often, when they do happen to be in a building where these gender-neutral bathrooms exist, those facilities are taken. Transgender students and staff have no other choice but to walk the halls terrified to fulfill basic biological needs in fear of legal charges or firing.
“This bill has increased the likelihood for my body to develop Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) due to having to hold my bladder when I am in public,” LaChapelle says.
It’s absurd that a student at FIU, who pays to belong to this institution, is having to put themselves at risk of bodily harm just to be on campus.
One of the many things FIU as a university is obligated to do is protect its students, particularly from instances of discrimination.
FIU has to comply with Florida laws – even if a law is openly discriminatory. However, universities still have the responsibility to do everything in their power to ameliorate the effects of that law.
The building of more gender-neutral bathrooms, of which there are only around 80 for over 55,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff members, is the absolute bare minimum action FIU could take, and there do not appear to be steps made by administration toward taking it.
All higher education institutions in Florida are required to provide proof of compliance to the law by Apr. 1, 2024.
If FIU is as committed to protecting and standing by their students as they say they are, they should make an effort to lobby the Board of Governors as well as the Florida State Government to help remedy the harm that this transphobic bill has caused.
FIU administration and President Jessell should also make a statement in solidarity of our transgender students and faculty to remind them that despite the laws that are actively targeting them, FIU remains a safe place.
A petition for the SGA “Equal Restrooms Act” (ERA) will be released in January which denounces HB 1521 and advocates for the addition of more gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
Though this is only the first step in rectifying a long overdue problem, anything counts.
“When you ban transgender individuals from using public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with our gender identity, that is legalizing discrimination and our right to exist,” says Kaily LaChapelle.
While FIU did not bring this bill into existence, it is their duty to trans students and faculty to fight it.
The opinions presented on this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.