Federal lawsuit: FL’s trans athlete law ‘has nothing to do with fairness or equality for girls or women in sports.’

By: - July 6, 2021 4:37 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill that bars transgender women and girls from playing on women’s sports teams on the first day of Pride Month. Screenshot/Florida Channel

A rising eighth-grade soccer player in Broward County is now in the center of a federal lawsuit filed late last month, saying that a new Florida law banning transgender girls and women from sports teams that align with their gender identity would be discriminatory under Title IX.

The federal Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that involve federal financial aid.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida, in the Fort Lauderdale division, also said Florida’s new law violates the privacy of transgender students. And it claims that the new law further violates Title IX because it treats transgender men differently from transgender women.

The complainant wants to block the new law “preliminarily and permanently” so that transgender girls and women would be able to play on girls’ sports teams in Florida.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Gov. Ron DeSantis as well as Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida State Board of Education, the Florida High School Athletic Association, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, and the Broward County School Board.

The soccer player, described as 13-year-old D.N. in the lawsuit, would no longer be able to play with her friends in the 2021-22 school year due to the fact that she is transgender — despite having played on girls’ athletic teams for years.

“She is on the girls’ team in her current school and wants to continue to play on the girls’ team when she starts high school,” according to the lawsuit.

Florida’s “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” signed by DeSantis, bars athletes from participating in women’s sports teams at middle, high school and colligate levels if their original birth certificates categorize them as male. Meaning that transgender women or girls cannot compete on the team that aligns with their gender identity.

The legislation took effect July 1, meaning these changes will be in place for the upcoming school year.

The lawsuit said that “SB 1028, ironically titled the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ has nothing to do with fairness or equality for girls or women in sports.”

(A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. A cisgender person is someone who’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.)

The new Florida law is a part of a national conservative push to regulate the lives of transgender people in the United States, and is one of several states to legislate transgender athletes in particular.

When the federal civil lawsuit was announced last week, the Human Rights Campaign Fund, based in Washington, D.C., indicated that they will bring similar lawsuits to Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Supporters of the legislation contend that transgender women enjoy an unfair advantage over cisgender women. Proponents say that the law will protect scholarship opportunities for cisgender women.

The Broward County School Board unanimously voted to oppose DeSantis’s new law in a symbolic gesture against the legislation, according to the Sun Sentinel, though the district will still have to follow state law.

In an email to the Phoenix, spokesperson Christina Pushaw said that “the Governor’s office believes the case to be without merit.”

Florida’s legislation reads that: “Athletic teams or sports designated for males, men, boys may be open to students of the female sex.” 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.”

This means that transgender women or girls 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.

D.N. has been playing on girls’ sports teams since she was seven, the litigation says. But the new law would prohibit her from continuing to play on the girls’ team, resulting in potential emotional and social repercussions and the loss of character-building opportunities associated with playing sports.

“Her social network and support system are the girls on her team,” the litigation says, “and she would be ostracized and bullied if she were to be forced to be on a boys’ team. Compelling her to be on the boys’ team also would force her to disclose her transgender status to the entire school.”

The litigation notes that D.N. has been presenting as female as early as in pre-school, and started using a name that was more typically associated with girls in second grade. As she’s gotten older, she’s received gender-confirming hormone treatment, such as hormone blockers to stop testosterone, to grow up similarly to her cisgender peers.

According to the lawsuit, “If D.N. does not have the option to play girls’ sports in high school and college, she will not be able to play sports at all and will lose the benefits of being part of the team network that has supported her emotionally and psychologically. She may be isolated and face emotional and mental confusion and emotional distress during this critical period of her social
and psychological development. She will be stigmatized since for all other purposes she will be living as a girl, but unable to play sports with her peers. She also may lose the opportunity to continue on travel teams; if she cannot play school sports, her soccer skills will certainly decline.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.