Amid a growing national push on the part of conservative politicians, Republican Florida elected officials have introduced proposals at the state and federal level to limit or outright ban the participation of transgender students in school athletic programs.
In January, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube of Central Florida reintroduced the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, a bill that would require athletic programs to determine an athlete's gender based on biological sex. Steube introduced the same bill last year, but it died in the House Committee on Education and Labor.
In a written statement, Steube said the bill is meant to ensure that women in sports have a "fair playing field" in competitive sports by preventing individuals who were born male from competing with them.
"By forcing biological female athletes to compete against biological male athletes in competitive sports, we are taking away women's opportunities on and off the field," Steube said in the statement.
At the state level, state Sen. Kelli Stargel of Central Florida recently introduced Senate Bill 2012, known as the Promoting Equality of Athletic Opportunity Act. Stargel's proposal would require the strict separation of male and female sports teams in public primary, secondary, and postsecondary educational institutions, and it would also require trans female athletes — those who have transitioned from male to female — to submit to monthly testosterone-level tests in order to determine their eligibility to participate on women's sports teams.
Under Stargel's bill, trans female athletes whose testosterone exceeds a state-mandated level would be suspended from competition in women's sports for 12 months. The provision follows an oft-cited argument by opponents of transgender sports participation that higher testosterone levels make trans women better at sports than cisgender women, giving them an unfair advantage. (Though many lawmakers point to testosterone as an important benchmark for excluding trans women from sports, there is some debate over how it figures in to determining athletic ability.)
The bill also creates a path for cisgender students to seek legal action if a school violates the law by allowing a transgender female athlete who does not meet the testosterone requirements to compete.
Similar bills limiting transgender athletic participation have been filed in dozens of states, including Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Mississippi. Many specifically target trans women participating in women's sports while making no mention of trans men participating in men's sports. Similarly, Stargel's bill regulates athletes who transition from male to female but it lacks any similar conditions for athletes who transition from female to male.
Transgender-rights activists in Florida have blasted Senate Bill 2012, calling the proposal transphobic and potentially harmful for young trans people.
Former Florida House candidate Elijah Manley, who identifies as nonbinary, says he'll be traveling to Tallahassee in the next week to fight the bill when it reaches committee hearings.
"This bill is harmful. It will directly impair the ability of trans youth to participate in sports," Manley tells New Times. "This only adds to the stigma that trans youth face, and it's unnecessary."
Manley fears the bill, if passed, might jeopardize the mental health of transgender youth who want to participate in sports, pushing them to either not affirm their gender identity or not participate at all. He also questions the potential economic burden the bill would place on Florida students or schools, since the bill is unclear about who would pay for the monthly testosterone tests for trans athletes.
Stargel did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment.
Senate Bill 2012 has also come under fire from Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that tracks legislation that would affect LGBTQ people, including transgender youth. Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida and a former Florida state representative, says the Florida bills are part of a coordinated national effort by right-wing politicians to push back against LGBTQ protections.
"This is a moment when LGBTQ youth are under siege in the Florida Capitol," Saunders says. "This is an overt, coordinated, multistate attack on the most vulnerable young people. Trans youth are most likely to be bullied and marginalized because they are misunderstood."
Saunders says Equality Florida has plans to combat the Florida bills regarding transgender athletes, as well as a bill by Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini that would make it a crime for healthcare professionals to perform gender-confirmation surgeries on transgender minors. A similar bill Sabatini introduced died in committee last year following strong opposition from LGBTQ advocates.
"Stopping these three bills is the most important priority for Equality Florida in the 2021 legislative session," Saunders says.
This latest round of legislation comes amid stark changes in U.S. policy on gender since the beginning of President Joe Biden's term.
Last May, under Donald Trump's administration, the U.S. Department of Education held that civil-rights protections against sexual discrimination under Title IX apply to people based on their biological sex. The decision came after three cisgender high school athletes in Connecticut challenged one of their state's policies that allowed transgender athletes to participate in sports according to their gender identity. The Trump administration held that Connecticut's policy violated federal law — but last month the Biden administration withdrew federal support for the Connecticut lawsuit.
The U.S. House of Representatives under the Biden administration has also passed the Equality Act of 2021, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The Equality Act passed the House with some Republican support and now awaits a vote in the Senate.
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