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Teens stage ‘die-in’ protests against Florida’s anti-trans driver’s license policy

Demonstrations took place at DMVs across the state

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Cameron Driggers (back row, far left) and other demonstrators protest outside the Gainesville, Fla. Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: Youth Action Fund)

On Friday, just days after the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a policy prohibiting transgender residents from updating the gender markers on their driver’s licenses, a group of teens coordinated “die-in” protests at DMVs across the state.

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon, Cameron Driggers and Jack Petocz relayed how they led demonstrations in Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Gainesville that featured more than 200 participants including representatives from more than eight LGBTQ groups.

The 18 and 19-year-old college students serve as, respectively, executive director and deputy director of Youth Action Fund, “a collective of Gen-Z activists fighting against the far-right culture war raging throughout Florida.”

This latest front on the war against trans people in the state, Driggers said, represents “one of the scariest, most authoritarian developments in Florida in a long time.”

The state agency’s policy preempts legislation in the Florida House of Representatives that would implement the same restrictions, permitting Floridians to list only their sex assigned at birth on state-issued IDs.

In response, Driggers recognized that “we need to have an Act Up-style direct action where we put our bodies on the line,” a reference to the AIDS activist organization’s practice of staging “die-ins” to demand that the federal government and Reagan White House stop ignoring an epidemic that was ravaging gay communities in the 1980s.

Driggers said Friday’s demonstrations were each 37 minutes long, a nod to data from the U.S. Transgender Survey that 37 percent of respondents have experienced discrimination because their IDs have inaccurate gender markers.

“We really wanted the protests to tell a story,” Petocz said. “We had the individuals actually lying down and committing the die-in where they had mock gravestones with messaging like ‘RIP: Killed by the DMV’ or ‘killed by the DeSantis administration'” along with “general messages about trans resistance.”

At each site these demonstrators were joined by a narrator to “tell the story of why we are out there today to passersby, what we are fighting for in this moment, [and] what the DMV just committed.”

Asked whether their decision to emulate the protest methods of Act Up was grounded in the relationship between Florida’s anti-trans crusade and increased incidence of death by suicide in communities already beset with high suicide rates and mental health challenges, Petocz said yes — but added that it’s “multifaceted.”

“I also think that you have to look at it from the perspective of enabling hate — of enabling the kind of sentiment that contributes to widespread transphobia,” he said. “And when the state goes ahead and they amplify that sentiment and they actually endorse it, it definitely leaves way for additional hate and hate crimes.”

“Our trans brothers and sisters are most susceptible to hate crimes in this country,” Petocz added.

Driggers said that next up for the coalition that participated in Friday’s demonstrations is bringing their protest to the Florida House. He noted that the copycat legislation, which was filed by state Reps. Douglas Michael Bankson (R-Apopka) and Dean Black (R-Jacksonville), is headed to committee for markup next week.

Meanwhile, they’re working with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Florida on a letter writing campaign to urge the Justice Department to investigate the policy, which appears both unconstitutional and authoritarian, Driggers said. They have 1,167 letters so far.

Driggers also noted that Simone Chriss, director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative, is “getting testimony from people who experienced problems” following the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ issuance of the new policy a couple of weeks ago.

A new wave of youth activism

Friday was hardly the first time Driggers and Petocz have led a protest against anti-LGBTQ and other harmful policies in Florida.

“Jack and I obviously been involved in activism for a very long time,” Driggers said. Their organization, which was just founded in November, awards $500 and $1,000 stipends for youth-led campaigns and individual advocates — while also lending their expertise in organizing to others through advisory services.

“We’ve worked through a variety of more institutional established organizations,” Driggers said. “And through that we’ve kind of identified a lot of shortcomings in the nonprofit industrial complex, if you will.”

“First among those, we think that there’s a structural lack of resources, and we’re often put on a pedestal and [told] ‘you’re gonna save us,’ but really, all that really means is they want us to be free labor, they want to knock on doors, they want to, you know, co-opt labor for the benefit of other organizations,” he said.

By contrast, with the Youth Action Fund, Driggers said, he and his friends have pioneered a new organizing model where “we tell people to come to us with their ideas, and then we work with them to make those ideas happen.”

For instance, Driggers said, when they were approached by students from Brevard County public high schools who objected to the district’s practice of banning books, Youth Action Fund was able to provide resources for them to acquire “speaking equipment, tables, literature” along with guidance on matters like how to “negotiate with their school board on how to get permits to protest.”

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Politics

Michael Knowles targets trans people and LGBTQ families in CPAC address

Pundit defended his infamous anti-trans remarks at last year’s event

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on Feb. 22, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles began his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday by briefly addressing the “kerfuffle” over his proclamation during last year’s event that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

Widely interpreted as a call for violence against transgender people or the trans community, the remarks were denounced at the time by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who called them “shameful, hateful and dangerous.”

Looking back at the incident, Knowles told the crowd “I stand by the observation that men can’t become women.” The controversy, he said, is evidence that the country “is having an identity crisis” — primarily as a consequence of the “decline of religion in America.”

While “true freedom is a national policy based on what we know in our hearts as morally right,” as ordained by God, Knowles said a worldview that makes space for the recognition of LGBTQ people and their families is based on a “false” notion of freedom that privileges, instead, “liberation from all limits.”

He pointed to same-sex marriage as an example, arguing that marriage does not and cannot include unions between “a couple of men, or a couple of women, or three men and a billy goat, for that matter.”

Additionally, Knowles said, one may not claim the “right” to have a child, because “children are people and no one has a right to another person.” He then veered into criticizing the practice of purchasing “designer babies” on the “open market of the surrogacy industry.”

Medically assisted family planning is a symptom of America’s moral decline that is akin to abortion, Knowles said. “If we have the right to kill babies, surely we have the right to buy and sell them too.”

Knowles argued there are “trade-offs” to understanding freedom as a permission structure to identify oneself outside the cisgender male-female binary, or to build relationships and families that are not centered around heterosexual, procreative unions.

Allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms — or, as he put it, giving “men” the “freedom to use the women’s bathroom,” means that “women lose the freedom to have their own bathrooms.”

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Politics

Tuberville promotes anti-transgender sports ban at CPAC

Senator’s bill introduced Feb. 1

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) speaks at CPAC 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – During an interview with right-wing talk show host Ben Ferguson at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) promoted a bill he introduced on Feb. 1, the Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

The legislation, which Tuberville acknowledged would not be brought to the Senate floor so long as Democrats have a majority in the chamber, would “prohibit any governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee” from allowing transgender women to participate “in any athletic event intended for females.”

The senator accused the Democrats, “the socialist party” of “dividing the family” by “trying to bring gender together, because they think men can have babies now.”

Tuberville expressed frustration with Republican Senate colleagues who did not agree with his sports bill, recounting how he had asked some of them, “don’t you have a daughter?”

“Now they want to tear down sports,” he said, warning that opening women’s and girls’ teams to trans women and girls will result in injury.

Tuberville and Ferguson criticized a new policy adopted by USA Boxing in January, which they found insufficiently restrictive.

The organization’s new rules stipulate that minors “must compete as their birth gender” and in weight classes specified in the rulebook — but allows trans women older than 18 to compete in the female category if they have undergone genital reassignment surgery and agree to quarterly hormone tests for four years.

More transphobia from GOP’s leading candidate for N.C. governor

Taking the stage after Tuberville and Ferguson was North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial primary, who also spoke out against allowing trans women and girls to compete in athletics and proclaimed “men oughta go in their own bathroom, not the women’s bathroom.”

Robinson objected to press coverage of his anti-trans remarks during a campaign speech this month in which he said, “we’re going to defend women in this state,” which means “if you’re a man on Friday night and all of the sudden on Saturday, you feel like a woman and you want to go in the women’s bathroom in the mall, you will be arrested — or whatever we got to do to you.”

At a different rally, Robinson said those who “are confused” about their gender should “find a corner outside somewhere to go” to the bathroom.

Robinson accused “the leftist news media” of cherry-picking these statements in their coverage rather than his remarks about other subjects. “Whenever they mention my name, they mention it in connection with social issues,” he said. “According to them, I hate everybody.”

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Congress

Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Rachel Levine with transphobic insults

Ga. Republican has long history of attacking health official

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In an X post on Feb. 17, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting Black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Feb. 17 was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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