Transgender Floridians rise up for their rights

Hundreds of transgender Floridians and their allies traveled to Tallahassee Feb. 28, converging from across the state at the Florida Capitol Building to demand Republican lawmakers “Let Us Live.” The march and rally were organized by six trans-focused organizations in just a few weeks’ time.

Their efforts began after the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles rescinded its policy allowing Floridians to update the gender marker on their IDs to match their gender identity. HSMV Deputy Executive Director Robert Kynoch detailed the change in a memo to county tax collectors dated Jan. 26, a decision that went public Jan. 29.

Prior to the update, Floridians could update their licenses by providing an official statement from an applicant’s attending physician noting it was appropriate to do so. According to the memo, however, this provision was “not supported by statutory authority” and the term “gender” should be “understood as a synonym for ‘sex,’” which subject matter experts like the World Health Organization refute.

Kynoch wrote that “permitting an individual to alter his or her license to reflect an internal sense of gender role or identity … undermines the purpose of an identification record and can frustrate the state’s ability to enforce its laws.” He also noted that “misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex … subjects an offender to criminal and civil penalties.”

The state’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization called the change an attempt “to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely.” Through its transgender-focused program TransAction, founded in 2014, the organization played a role in fighting for the inclusive policy.

“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said in a statement.

“In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID. They carefully followed the rules to ensure their identification accurately reflects who they are, and they trusted this process,” she continued. “Now, an abrupt policy reversal has thrown their lives into chaos. The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian.”

“Let Us Live” organizers agreed. They were among the LGBTQ+ advocates who staged protests at DMVs in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami and more while simultaneously working to combat the advancement of House Bill 1639.

Introduced as “Gender and Biological Sex” in January, it was dubbed the “Trans Erasure Bill” by LGBTQ+ advocates.
Like the DMV memo, HB 1639 would have restricted trans Floridians from changing the gender marker to match their gender identity. It would have also required insurance companies to include coverage for the discredited practice of “conversion therapy” in Florida, specifically relating to gender identity, among other anti-LGBTQ+ measures.

It passed the state House by a vote of 75-33 March 1, just days after the “Let Us Live” rally. It did not advance in the state Senate, however, after Republican leadership advised it was “stuck in committee.”

TransAction Florida Special Event Coordinator Angelique Godwin was among the “Let Us Live” speakers. Known for her advocacy in Tampa Bay, she now calls Pensacola home and accepted her role with Equality Florida last December to “provide a better quality of life for trans individuals across the state.”

“When the DMV memo leaked, there was a lot of confusion because we were already battling and hearing about HB 1639,” Godwin says. “I was asked to come on a call for an emergency meeting of individuals who are in the trans community to help understand the bills, understand the DMV notice and also what our next steps could be.

“When I arrived on that call, there was a huge call for action to take a stand and to actually facilitate change,” she continues. “I already had that heavy on my heart and wanted very much to do something, but I didn’t know where to start.”

Godwin says participants pointed toward last year’s historic Drag Queen March — of which the advocate and entertainer played a key part — intent to organize something similar to galvanize support for trans Floridians. Activists convened in Tallahassee in response to legislation targeting the craft last April, just one of 2023’s discriminatory laws now being litigated.

“I offered my assistance because I had the experience with last year’s Drag Queen March and I had access to help with Equality Florida,” Godwin says. “I offered to help facilitate and I ended up leading it because people naturally put me in that position. I just made sure it happened because I had belief in the march and belief in its necessity and capability.”

“It was something that was already going to happen,” Godwin adds. “I just wanted to make sure that it happened well and was executed in a peaceful manner without opposition.”

It was. Organizers and participants also included Capitol Tea, the Gender Advancement Project, The Queer Trans Project, Trans United in Elevation and Unspoken Treasure Society. Advocates in attendance included Maia Monet, who serves as Transgender Resource Manager for the LGBT+ Center in Orlando.

“It was nice to see trans people coming in from all over the state,” she says. “It was also great to see [Democratic] politicians come out, see us and speak about what was going on in Tallahassee in this legislative session.”

Staying informed is a key part of Monet’s work at The Center, which supports Central Florida’s trans community by creating safe spaces, assisting with documentation and providing other essential services. She currently facilitates three trans-focused support groups through her role.

“These were pre-existing groups run by my predecessors, but I’m the first full-time Transgender Resource Manager and we’ve seen tremendous growth in attendance,” Monet says. “Whereas before I started [last August], from what I understand, there would be a handful or 9, 10, 11 people … I now regularly see over 30. I’ve had as high as 46.”

Monet cites Florida’s anti-trans policies and laws as one reason for the increase, but also points toward tragedies like the death of Nex Benedict. The 16-year-old nonbinary student died last month in Oklahoma after being bullied at school, a matter being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education.

“You see spikes and we certainly find solace in being around other trans people where we don’t have to explain ourselves all the time,” Monet says. “There are people at all different stages: people who are starting out and asking questions about how to come out to their families, and people who transitioned 10 years ago that help younger folks through the process.

“That kind of support is one of the reasons they come and it is very important,” she continues. “But of course, there are also people who are advocates themselves that are looking to fight back. We partner with other groups sometimes, so there’s more than just support going on; people are being made aware of opportunities to flex their advocacy muscles.”

That’s happening in Tampa Bay as well, thanks in large part to TransNetwork. The organization is nearing its first full year as a nonprofit and exists to build “a community where trans and gender expansive people thrive as healthy, connected and supported members of society.”

The organization was co-founded by LGBTQ+ advocates Tristan Byrnes, Andy Citino and Andre Clarke. They came together in March 2023 to combat the DeSantis administration’s mounting attacks on trans health care — through the Florida Department of Health and the state legislature alike — as well as the misinformation surrounding their anti-trans policies and legislation.

“People were absolutely petrified,” Clarke says. “We were hearing about friends, relatives and loved ones moving out of state because they thought that they were suddenly going to be a part of some sort of pogrom. We needed to start something to fill a void.”

The group began by holding town halls at LGBTQ+-affirming churches MCC Tampa and Allendale UMC. They welcomed legal experts and other LGBTQ+ advocates to quell fears.

“People were moving because of misinformation. People were talking suicide because they were so scared,” Byrnes recalls. “We felt like we needed to create a space and bring in some experts that could speak to what these laws really meant. They were pulled together quickly because of what we felt was an emergency to help calm anxiety and panic.”

Citino says “attendance for these events was absolutely incredible,” noting that 95 people convened in Tampa and over 130 came together in St. Petersburg.

“I’ve been doing this a long time. We’ve all been doing this a long time in different ways,” he notes. “But I’ve never seen attendance like that from the trans community and our allies. It was unbelievable.”

“It was raw. It was just absolutely raw,” Clarke adds. “People’s emotions were just drained and they were so scared … those initial town halls were to say, ‘we’ve got you.’”

TransNetwork has united the community in other ways since then. Through a partnership with PFLAG Safety Harbor, they hosted a Trans & Ally Picnic for nearly 200 people last month.

“What we hear from the trans community more than anything is that there is a need for a place to come together to know we’re not alone and to be amongst our people,” Byrnes says. “We are going to have more of these types of events because that’s what’s needed. As we hold more events our mission is becoming more defined.”

“Network is part of our name for a reason,” Citino adds, as evidenced through another partnership. TransNetwork and the Pinellas County Democratic Party will hold a UNI-Tea Dance April 28 in St. Petersburg to bring the community together.
Clarke says efforts like these are particularly impactful for trans youth.

“The younger people just want to see and know more people — so many 22-year-olds tell us it’s amazing meeting a trans elder,” he says. “They say, ‘It gives me hope that I can make it to 55’ or ‘It gives me hope that I can make it to 35,’ because with everything going on, many people didn’t think they ever would. That’s why these social things, even more than the informational things, are so important.”

Orlando’s Britney Stinson agrees. She founded Transitional Space in 2018 to provide “a place where people can come together without judgement and give and get support [while] being their best self and having a good time.”

“I’m so thankful for the organizations who provide healthcare, therapy, housing; for the advocacy groups, and the groups and individuals who keep us abreast of all the negative press and legislation that is targeting our community,” she explains. “But I think there needs to be a space too where we focus on positive things, and do just fun, community building events.”

The organization has served over 3,000 people through its virtual drop-in center, support groups and other events. Stinson says Transitional Spaces will focus on providing opportunities in sports this year.

The decision is a response to Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” and other measures. It was signed into law in 2021 to prevent trans youth from playing sports that align with their gender identity.

“With the way legislation is now, trans folks have almost no opportunities to play organized sports in Florida,” Stinson explains. “We are starting with flag football, baseball and softball for teens and adults, but are hoping to expand.”

Fighting for trans rights in Florida takes many forms, Godwin notes, all of them worthwhile. It’s why she’s been working diligently on TransAction Florida: Voices for Change, the first statewide convening of trans-led organizations.
The gathering is scheduled for late April and was designed to create “a better quality of life for trans individuals in the state of Florida.” Over 65 attendees are expected to participate in the private event.

“The idea is to use this opportunity to network and build rapport with fellow trans organizations and leaders that support the community,” Godwin says. “We want to see what health looks like for everyone in it.”

“It’s okay to be afraid, but I want our community to lean into that fear and use it as a strength,” she stresses. “Let it become a fire that ignites passion to stand up and speak out, to continue to fight and to join the organizations that are fighting — because when we choose to tell our stories, they listen and they hear us. You don’t get to experience that unless you do, so it’s time for us all to take a stand.”

For more information about TransAction Florida, visit, and contact Angelique Godwin at to learn more about the private TransAction Florida: Voices for Change.

Learn more about The Center Orlando and its transgender services at and about TransNetwork and future events at Visit TransitionalSpace.Info for details about Transitional Space’s work.

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