Florida governor suspends prosecutor who refused to punish trans youth for seeking gender-affirming care

Andrew Warren, state attorney for Hillsborough County, also vowed not to prosecute people seeking abortions

Florida’s Republican governor suspended a state prosecutor last week for refusing to punish trans youth or their parents for seeking gender-affirming medical care.

Andrew Warren, the elected Democratic state attorney for Hillsborough County, openly criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in March. On March 8, Warren tweeted that he was “disgusted” by the legislation, which forbids classroom instruction on LGBTQ2S+ issues until the third grade, and said it “fosters prejudice and hatred.”

Warren also took aim against DeSantis by joining a statement signed by prosecutors across the United States vowing to “not promote the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare or transgender people,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

DeSantis struck back on August 4 by dismissing Warren from his position and accusing him of “neglect of duty.” In a press release, the governor said that state prosecutors “have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda.”

“The constitution of Florida has vested the veto power in the governor, not in individual state attorneys,” DeSantis added in a press conference held at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office last week. “And so when you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty and you are displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform those duties.”

DeSantis appointed Hillsborough County judge Susan Lopez to serve as acting state attorney during Warren’s suspension, which will continue indefinitely.

Prior to his suspension, Warren was also critical of Florida’s stance on reproductive health access. After the U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade in a June ruling, he was one of 90 elected prosecutors across the U.S. who pledged not to take legal action against those who provide or receive abortions.

In April, Florida imposed a 15-week abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for situations where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. The new law considers abortion a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, both for those who provide and receive abortions. Doctors and other medical professionals who perform abortions are at the risk of losing their licences and face administrative fines of $10,000.

 

After Florida’s law was passed, Warren declared it unconstitutional and stated that he would not prosecute individuals who violate the law. “Florida has a privacy right protecting abortion,” he reaffirmed in June. “Reversing Roe doesn’t change that.”

But while DeSantis accused Warren of “wilful defiance of duties,” there is no law in Florida criminalizing gender-affirming medical care. The “Don’t Say Gay” law does not pertain to treatments like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or puberty blockers for trans youth, and legislative attempts to ban trans minors from receiving these medications have stalled in recent years. 

Despite the lack of legislation on the books, DeSantis’s administration has instead begun laying the groundwork to strip away trans healthcare through its own means. In April, the Florida Department of Health released guidance stating that trans youth should not be allowed to medically or socially transition, and two months later, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration announced plans to deny coverage for transitioning under the state’s Medicaid program, both for youth and adults.  

Florida has moved forward with these proposals in recent weeks. The same day that Warren was suspended, the Florida Board of Medicine held a hearing in which it voted to prohibit youth from receiving surgery or HRT.

Warren has vowed to fight back against his suspension, telling the New York Times that the decision is nothing but a “political stunt” to further DeSantis’s personal political agenda. The incumbent governor is currently running for a second term in November and has been rumoured to be a potential presidential nominee in 2024.

“The people have the right to elect their own leaders—not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and again he feels accountable to no one,” Warren said.

Dika Ofoma

Dika Ofoma is a Nigerian-based writer whose works have been published in magazines like Dazed, Them., Mail and Guardian.

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