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USF students take a 'Stand for Freedom' in response to state request for transgender health records

Mulitple students standing outside in a circle, holding pink, white, and blue signs.
Meghan Bowman
WUSF Public Media
Students gather outside Marshall Student Center on the University of South Florida Tampa campus Tues., Feb. 7, 2023 to protest for transgender student rights.

Students are organizing a walk-out at the end of the month that will include other state public and private colleges and universities and high schools.

Students at the University of South Florida are organizing a statewide response at Florida public and private colleges and universities to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for medical records of people experiencing gender dysphoria.

The Students for a Democratic Society held a small rally outside the Marshall Student Center Tuesday. Chants from the crowd supporting trans rights punctuated stories shared by members of the crowd.

It comes after the College Democrats chapter at USF started an online petition last month that encouraged university administration to deny the state's request. Despite capturing over 2,600 signatures, officials issued a statement confirming they plan to release the records.

“As a state university, USF has an obligation to be responsive to requests from our elected officials. However, the university will not provide information that identifies an individual patient or violates patient privacy laws.”

Ben Braver is a third year USF student and Outreach Officer for the College Democrats. Last week, Braver and other students had an informal meeting with administration officials they called “productive.”

Group of students holding signs outdoors in front of a green bench.
Meghan Bowman
WUSF Public Media
Students gather outside Marshall Student Center on the University of South Florida Tampa campus to chant for Trans rights.

“But this is obviously not what we wanted,” Braver said. “What we wanted is for USF to take a real stand against the DeSantis administration. But unfortunately, they simply couldn’t.”

But Braver said the latest state requests to cut funding for Florida universities' diversity, equity, and inclusion programs “expanded the scope of their movement.”

So his group started a new campaign they call Stand For Freedom.

“We demand the DeSantis administration restore DEI initiatives, stop its attack on LGBTQ+ students, and end his abuse of power,” the pledge says.

Students are currently receiving signals of support from some state lawmakers. They are also targeting state public and private colleges and universities, as well as high schools, for a walkout Feb. 23 in support of trans rights and other educational issues.

“We firmly believe that removing these (DEI and LGBTQ+ programs) will make all of our public universities in Florida worse for the students and worse for the staff who have to work there,” said USF senior Jonathon Chavez, the President of the College Democrats.

Chavez added that cutting programs and services to students will only "make our school worse."

He contends that if programs are eliminated, the university will be less desirable for international students as well. In the case of USF, that could be a problem as those students make up a large portion of the student population, and, by extension, the tuition income the school receives.

Andy Pham is an officer for the USF Trans+ Student Union who said he wasn't surprised by USF's response to the state when it comes to the trans medical records.

He added that students are frustrated with the situation, but not necessarily at the school.

“We do not think that the university is entirely at fault,” Pham said. “They’re not the ones issuing the memo.”

The memorandum sent last month to 12 state public universities by DeSantis’ budget director, Chris Spencer, requested the number and ages of students who sought gender dysphoria treatment, including gender-affirming surgery and hormone prescriptions.

“We did not consent to this data being sent. We do not like that this data is probably going to be sent,” Pham said.

One of his concerns is that the government wants this data to shut LGBTQ+ services down for students. Another worry is that transgender students could be outed or identified due to the low number of records being pulled.

The state's request does make clear that "all responses do not contain personally identifiable information or protected health information."

“I think another narrative that the state is pushing is that transgender identity is inherently sexual or inherently perverse or predatory,” Pham said. "I think that's interesting. Honestly, sometimes I don't know how to answer such vitriol, you know?"

Pham said the services offered by USF Student Health Services are important to students who either don’t have the money or resources to go elsewhere. The physicians at SHS offer specific and personalized healthcare options for students, along with experience helping patients with gender dysphoria.

“Medical professionals who treat us understand this is necessary,” he said. “If I had colorectal cancer, for example, would you want an orthopedic surgeon to treat that?”

The university has until Feb. 10 to send the requested information to the state.

READ MORE: WUSF's Daylina Miller shares stories about "Trans Joy"

Updated: February 9, 2023 at 4:50 PM EST
This story has been updated to reflect a date change for the USF walkout.
Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.