Florida legislature passes transgender sports ban

The ban, called ‘red meat’ for hate groups by opponents, awaits Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s signature.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been presented a bill by the Republican legislature to ban transgender athletes in women's sport [File: Joe Skipper/Reuters]

A controversial bill banning transgender athletes from women’s and girls’ sport in Florida has been sent to Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature in a surprise move on Wednesday night. If DeSantis, a Republican, signs it into law, Florida would become the largest US state to enact such a ban this year.

The bill has prompted an outcry from transgender rights advocates who warn of a coordinated attack on LGBTQ rights in states nationwide.

“Republicans followed their marching orders to implement this orchestrated culture war against the transgender community,” said Gina Duncan, a director at Florida Equality, an LGBTQ equal rights advocacy group.

There were “impassioned pleas by legislators, who have gay and transgender kids and grandkids, imploring them to understand the harm this bill does”, Duncan told Al Jazeera.

The proposed law seeks to prohibit athletes designated as male on their birth certificates from participating in women’s and girls’ sport.

Republican legislators who supported the transgender ban said it was necessary to protect fairness in women’s competitions.

Florida state Senator Kelli Stargel, a lead Republican sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday the law was needed to ensure “women are going to play with other women that have the same physiological make up”.

“I know it’s unfortunate for the number of students who are transgender, but we are doing this so that women have the opportunity to participate, to get scholarships, to excel with other women of like strength capabilities,” Stargel argued, according to the Miami Herald.

A coalition of sports organisations including the NBA’s Miami Heat, NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Major League Soccer and the National Collegiate Athletic Association had opposed the legislation.

Nationwide, similar bills have been introduced and are seriously being considered in as many as 30 states, drawing national opposition from LGBTQ rights groups and corporate leaders.

More than 70 major US companies including Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Hilton, AT&T, American Airlines and others have signed on to an April 20 position statement opposing such transgender sports bans.

New anti-transgender laws have been enacted this year by Republicans in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, West Virginia and Arkansas. Montana’s governor has a transgender ban bill ready for signature on his desk. South Dakota’s Republican governor vetoed a transgender ban but issued a similar executive order.

“These bills that are sweeping the country attacking the transgender community are basically throwing red meat at a particular ideology in preparation for the elections of 2022,” Duncan said.

“State lawmakers should be focused on passing laws to protest Americans livelihoods, not threatening to pass laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people,” said Kasey Suffredini, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, a national LGBTQ rights advocacy campaign that helped organise the business statement.

Florida high school sports authorities had already put in place guidelines for the participation of transgender athletes. About 11 transgender students are now competing under those rules, Duncan said.

“We already have rules in place that allow everyone to be able to play. And we have had no complaints,” she told Al Jazeera.

Connecticut high school transgender athletes Terry Miller, second from left, won the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, left, and other runners in a 2019 Connecticut girls competition [File: Pat Eaton-Robb/AP Photo]

The new state laws are likely to generate court suits under federal anti-discrimination laws. A transgender sports ban in Idaho, passed in 2020, is presently on hold pending a federal court ruling on its legality.

In February, the Biden administration withdrew US government support for a lawsuit in Connecticut brought by women athletes seeking to block transgender competitors.

On April 26, a US District judge dismissed the Connecticut lawsuit on procedural grounds without addressing the substantive merits of the case. Plaintiffs said they would appeal.

President Joe Biden has issued executive orders prohibiting gender discrimination on the basis of sex or identity in federal policy and reversed a Trump ban on transgender people serving in the US military.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports,” the Biden policy said.

Source: Al Jazeera