A group of University of South Florida students has asked the school to ignore Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent order requiring state universities to detail all gender-affirming care they have provided since 2018.
Their petition, delivered last week to USF President Rhea Law, contends the request “is a violation of the civil rights of the most vulnerable students in our state” and “escalates the State of Florida’s pattern of using LGBTQ+ issues as a pretense to undermine Florida’s state education system.”
It calls the governor’s request an unprecedented invasion of privacy that interferes with personal decisions on medical matters. “If we don’t stop it now,” the petition says, “it could become standard governmental practice to ignore the rights of anyone they choose.”
As of Thursday, about 2,400 people had signed on to the petition, which was circulated online.
Althea Johnson, a USF spokesperson, indicated that the students’ request would be denied. She said the university “has an obligation to be responsive to requests from our elected officials,” but that it would not provide information that could identify individual patients.
DeSantis addressed his rationale for requesting the records earlier this week, saying at a Bradenton news conference that publicly funded institutions should not be providing that type of care to minors.
“These are very young people and you have all kinds of things that go on in those years,” he asserted. “Most of it resolves itself by the time they become adults, but the way to deal with that is to provide whatever counseling is needed, not to hack off their body parts.”
The information is due to the state by Feb. 10.
Ben Braver, an organizer of the petition and a USF junior, said he was scrolling through Instagram one night when he came across a post about DeSantis’ request. It required the state’s 12 public universities to provide details on the ages of patients treated, the number of “encounters” where sex reassignment was sought, and the names of facilities where patients were referred. It also asked for the number of individuals prescribed specific hormone treatments and surgical procedures.
“I saw that and I was like, ‘What? What is that?’ and I kept scrolling and realized like, no, wait, that’s really bad,” said Braver, who is an officer in USF’s College Democrats chapter.
After determining that no other USF group was responding to the action, Braver said he reached out to fellow students and they came up with the petition. He said they also contacted other student organizations and urged students from the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida to do the same at their schools.
Though the state has requested that the data not include personal information, Braver said he still has safety concerns based on the size of the community receiving the treatments and the ability for anyone to seek those data points.
“This is a nonpartisan issue,” Braver said. “Even if it’s technically legal because it doesn’t have names, it’s still immoral. Because it’s a small community and (the data is) sorted by age and very specific personalized treatment plans, you can dox someone with this. You can find people out and harass them, with the Florida sunshine law.”
The petition drew about 980 signatures and more than 370 comments on its first day. About 80% came from USF students, faculty and staff, Braver said.
The students said they appreciated their meeting this week with Law and USF Interim Provost Eric Eisenberg, who encouraged them to express their opinions. They said they are working with student government and hope to join with other campuses to draft resolutions against the requests.
Andy Pham, an officer with the Transgender Student Union at USF, said many transgender individuals already face enough barriers to care — from stigma to cost.
He said he knows few transgender individuals who have received any of the procedures DeSantis’ office is asking about, as they are often costly.Others don’t wish to seek them, he said, and some hormones and procedures have other uses.
“I think people are used to giving away data, so this request seems pretty innocuous,” said Pham, a fourth-year student studying biomedical sciences. “But the problem is it’s part of a pattern of behavior.” He cited DeSantis’ recent effort to collect data on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, which was followed by the governor’s announcement that he planned to defund them.
Pham is studying to become a doctor who can provide gender-affirming care. He said most major medical groups understand the necessity of treatment for transgender individuals.
Jonathon Chavez, president of USF’s College Democrats, said he’s hopeful university administrators stand up for their students.
“If it’s not this thing, it’ll be something else two months down the line, either attacking universities or attacking trans people or both,” Chavez said.
Divya Kumar is a higher education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.