Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Republican, has marched in LGBT Pride parades, and voted with the community on numerous issues including banning conversion therapy on minors when he served on the Broward County Commission.
But it appears standing up for trans student-athletes is a bridge too far for LaMarca whose state house district includes a portion of Wilton Manors.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised at his betrayal of the trans community,” said former Mayor of Broward County Ken Keechl, who lost two elections to LaMarca. “When Chip LaMarca participated with the LGBT community in the Stonewall Parade, was he simply pandering to the community? This is not the position of an enlightened Broward public official.”
His position was striking enough that The Floridian, a local right-wing political news outlet, wrote a story on it titled “LaMarca Supports Transgendered Athletes ban Bill in FL House.” The story labeled him a “centrist.”
LaMarca pushed back and defended his record to SFGN.
“Over my 16 years of my public service I never have, and never will, stop fighting for LGBT rights,” he said. “I will never vote to limit, restrict, or take away the rights of men and women to marry who they love, or adopt children into loving homes and families. I believe my record over the years shows this.”
The bill now bans trans women and girls from participating in some school sports in Florida. It’s been opposed by all of the major LGBT rights organizations and many athletics groups.
Keechl, Broward’s first openly gay mayor, isn’t the only one who saw LaMarca’s stance as a betrayal. Equality Florida blasted the Broward Republican.
“Chip LaMarca’s vote was a betrayal. He has capitulated to unfounded fears and lies because he was unwilling to stand up to leadership,” a spokesperson from Equality Florida wrote to SFGN. “This bill is driven by GOP polling and is part of an orchestrated nationwide strategy to target the trans youth to feed the hard-right base.”
During a committee hearing on the trans bill LaMarca blasted the NCAA for their treatment of women’s sports.
“I’m absolutely shocked any of these groups would come here today, in opposition to this legislation that they would use the NCAA as their example. I would specifically warn groups like Equality Florida against setting the NCAA as a beacon of moral hope and equality,” he said.
Equality Florida shot back: “Him lashing out at the NCAA and community advocates is a pitiful attempt to deflect attention from his indefensible support for a bill that does real harm. He is supporting legislation that will be the first specifically anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in more than 20 years. And he did it while never making time to sit down with the families directly impacted.”
LaMarca continued to lash out against Equality Florida in an email to SFGN.
“I am always open to meet with and support our LGBT community here in Broward County and throughout Florida, but in my mind Equality Florida no longer stands for anything other than profiteering on the back of true social justice changes,” he said. “They have become Florida’s Capitol complainers and it is drowning out the true voices from our LGBT community.”
LaMarca noted in the committee hearing that what did give him pause was an OP-ED from his friend Heather Brinkworth, a former Broward County School Board Member and Republican.
But in the end LaMarca voted for the bill justifying it by saying “...although I’m not convinced of the necessity of this legislation. I will support it moving into the House floor because this is something that should be debated thoroughly by the 120 members of the Florida House…”
Later LaMarca voted with the full House to support the bill. That bill, along with the state Senate’s version, stalled. It was reported in the media it looked like there would be not enough time left to pass the bills. A week later though Republican lawmakers used a procedural shortcut to add the bill as an amendment to another unrelated bill, just two days before the end of the legislative session.
When speaking to Sports Illustrated on an unrelated bill LaMarca said this: “Not only did our legislature go back and revive a questionable policy, but against all odds the Florida Senate stripped Florida of our leadership role that will empower student-athletes to earn a living off their talent.”
Despite the bill being questionable LaMarca voted for it — again.
“The proposed law relies on baseless arguments to scare people into thinking that allowing transgender females to participate in the sport of the gender with which they identify will create huge inequities for female athletes. Check the decade-long record. It hasn’t happened,” Brinkworth wrote in her OP-ED to the Sun Sentinel. “While there is no evidence of this bill’s necessity, there is plenty of evidence that our LGBTQ+ youth are suffering, with higher levels of depression, higher incidents of drug and alcohol use and a higher likelihood of suicidal ideations and/or death by suicide. The reality of those statistics should be driving the conversation toward inclusion and support rather than exclusion and division, and the positive impact sports has on young people should be part of that. Being a teenager is hard enough when the cards aren’t stacked against you. As adults, we should do everything we can to promote inclusion and create safe environments for children.”
One Democrat, James Bush (D-Miami), crossed the aisle in the house voting for the bill while one Republican in the state senate, Gayle Harrell (representing parts of Palm Beach County), voted against the bill.
Brinkworth’s OP-ED may have given LaMarca pause, but it didn’t stop him from casting his vote against trans youth.
In the past though LaMarca has shown he’s willing to stand up to his own party. In 2014 both LaMarca and Brinkworth marched in the annual Stonewall Parade in Wilton Manors and both were viciously attacked by their fellow local Republicans for doing so.
At the time he had this to say about attending the parade: “Show everybody — as attending events in the Black community and attending events in less Republican areas — I’m a commissioner that’s always there. I’d much rather be educated on issues by talking to people than getting talking points from someone or some organization telling me how to think.”
Chip LaMarca's election banner as seen at Stonewall Pride. Photo credit: J.R. Davis.
Keechl even defended LaMarca at the time telling the Sun Sentinel: “Chip and Heather should not be attacked for participating in the Stonewall Parade. That’s just homophobia at its worst, and the right-wingers of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves. It’s disgusting.”
Flyers and emails were distributed and sent to Republicans disparaging LaMarca and Brinkworth. One such email started off with, “Whores chasing whores, if you will.”
Andy Eddy, a former chair of the Broward County Log Cabin Republicans, has long supported LaMarca. He even wrote an OP-ED in 2010 for SFGN backing LaMarca over Keechl in 2010.
“I won’t officially speak on behalf of Rep. LaMarca and his difficult decision on transgender exclusion in competitive sports, apparently based on one’s biologically gender at birth, other than suggesting that perhaps, at this time, the jury may still be out on this controversial and divisive issue for all concerned,” Eddy said. “I will not readily cancel out Rep. LaMarca at this point in time. I’ll digest the divisiveness from both sides of fence, namely that of the Liberal left GLBT community and then the Socially Conservative right within the GOP, and then hopefully and successfully maneuver through those challenging minefields which all too frequently divides, rather than slowly and amicably affords to mend and an equitable resolve [...] allowing the willing to foster and enable reconciliation.”
In 2018 LaMarca, while still on the Broward commission, voted to ban conversion therapy on minors, saying it was a tough decision: “Try being a Republican in Broward County that supports his gay friends.” After the vote fellow Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan joked, “You’ve been in political conversion since I’ve been here.”
Editor's note: after publication Chip LaMarca emailed SFGN to expand on his record on LGBT rights saying, "I am not sure if you were aware of my full voting record, but I voted for Marriage Equality as a Broward County Commissioner. Most recently, I cosponsored the Competitive Workforce Act for Equality in the Florida House (twice), when it was Equality Florida’s priority legislation."