A athlete wearing sports clothing sprinting off the starting blocks on an outdoor running track. Credit: Getty Images
The Florida Legislature has approved a bill that, on paper, says will protect female athletics and promote fairness and competition in school sports games.
The bill dubs itself as “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” applying to student athletes in public secondary and post-secondary schools.
But for transgender students athletes, the wording means they could be kicked of their sports teams, though the word transgender isn’t used in the bill. Even so, critics are referring to the bill as “anti-transgender” legislation.
But that hasn’t stopped the Legislature, which now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a final review.
The legislation comes at a time when at least 30 other states are working to pass similar laws legislating the lives of transgender people, according to the Idaho Capital Sun, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom that includes the Florida Phoenix.
In Florida, the GOP-controlled House and Senate were able to push the bill through, but most Democrats in both chambers were against it.
The legislation, if approved, is expected to target transgender student athletes, and its impacts will primarily be felt by that community.
Transgender people are those who discover that the role they were assigned at birth — boy or girl — does not adequately fit them — so they transition to a different gender. A transgender man would have been assigned a girl at birth, while a transgender woman would have been assigned a boy at birth.
Cisgender people, on the other hand, are those who find that the gender they were assigned at birth — boy or girl — best suits them and they don’t transition to a different gender.
The Florida legislation focuses on what gender a student was assigned at birth, and decides who can play on men or women’s sports teams based only on that designation, to be determined by a students original birth certificate.
“Athletic teams or sports designated for males, men, boys may be open to students of the female sex,” the language reads. This could allow transgender men to play on either men or women’s sports teams.
But the next line does not give transgender women the same option, saying that: “Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex.”
Those who support the measure claim that allowing transwomen athletes who play in a women’s league will have an unfair advantage over other players, or could even harm other players. They are worried that transwomen will athletically perform as cisgender men.
What this means is if this legislation becomes law, transgender women who are currently playing on the team that matches their gender identity will no longer be able to play with their peers, and will have to play on a team that instead lines up with the gender they were assigned at birth.
The legislation would create different standards for transgender men and transgender women. Since a men’s sports team “may be open to students of the female sex,” transmen could possibly play on either a women’s or man’s sports team.
However, transgender women could not play in women’s athletics, because those teams are not “open to students of the male sex.”
Some critics of the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” say that these types of bills could violate Title IX of the Civil Rights Act by treating people differently based on their sex. The American Civil Liberty Union of Florida earlier called such measures “unconstitutional.”
The legislation affecting transgender athletes was slipped into a different bill on charters schools — a legislative strategy to ensure the bill would pass in the final days of the 2021 session.
The charter schools bill passed later in the evening Wednesday, despite heavy opposition to the language affecting transgender student athletes.
In a Thursday statement, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, now a U.S. Congressman, called on DeSantis to veto, or oppose, the legislation. Crist’s name has been considered as an opponent against DeSantis in the the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“This cruel legislation is creating an issue where one doesn’t exist, picking on young people for political gain. Governor DeSantis should veto it immediately,” Crist said in a written statement.
“I challenge Republican legislators in Tallahassee to imagine being a kid who is in this situation, what it says to them to be singled out by lawmakers in such a mean-spirited way.”
The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is already pushing the governor to say no on the legislation:
“This damaging bill is a direct attack on some of our community’s most vulnerable — transgender children….Please help us by sending a quick email to Governor DeSantis to veto this cruel legislation.”
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